Title: February Skywatch Highlights
Location: Hawaiian Islands
Date / Time: February 2013
Comments: The Winter Sky continues to mesmerize us! Orion, easily recognizable by the 3 stars in his famous belt, & neighboring constellations Taurus, Gemini, Auriga, Canis Major & Minor, boast some of the brightest stars in the sky; (the Winter Hexagon: Sirius, Procyon, Capella, Aldebaran, Pollux, & Rigel). From February 2nd thru the 23rd, we'll have our BEST evening views of MERCURY this year. Look for the small, bright innermost planet, low above the west-southwestern horizon, shortly after sunset. Mercury spends the first 2 weeks of February climbing higher in the evening sky, and becomes easier to spot with each passing day. Look for Mercury on Feb. 8th, when it passes 3-degrees north of Mars and, at magnitude minus -1.0, appears some 8 times brighter than the Red Planet. Mercury's visibility continues to improve thru February 16th when it reaches eastern elongation (greatest angular distance east of the Sun). On that date, Mercury lies 18-degrees east of the Sun, & appears 11-degrees high in the WSW, 30 minutes after sunset. At magnitude minus -0.4, it is the brightest object in that area of sky. Dazzling JUPITER dominates the evening sky as darkness falls. Throughout February, the gas giant gleams brilliantly in central Taurus, about mid-way between the Pleiades star cluster (M45) & Aldebaran, the red-giant star seen as the "eye of the bull." At magnitude minus -2.2, Jupiter is the brightest object in our night sky (other than the Moon). Jupiter peaks about 80 degrees above the southern horizon, (almost directly overhead), shortly after sunset. With a small telescope or good binoculars, you can view Jupiter's 4 bright Galilean moons in their ever-changing configurations. Larger scopes will reveal Jupiter's dark equatorial belts, (one on either side of a brighter equatorial zone), the giant red spot, & other dynamic surface features. As Jupiter sinks low in the west, SATURN rises into view in the east. At mid-month, Saturn becomes an evening planet, rising shortly before midnight. It appears highest in the south as morning twilight commences. Saturn appears about 20-degrees to the east (left) of Spica, the brightest star in Virgo and, at magnitude 0.5, the Ringed Planet is somewhat brighter than the star. Notice Saturn's golden hue compared to blue-white Spica. Saturn's rings open wider than they've been since 2006, tilting at 19-degrees to our line of sight from Earth, & afford impressive views through even a small telescope. MARS has been hovering low in the west-southwestern sky after sunset. After mid-February, the Red Planet will be lost in the sunset, and we won't see it again until it reappears in the predawn skies in June. As with Mars, we also lose VENUS from view in February. You might catch a final glimpse of Venus in the first days of month, the brilliant planet rising in the east about 30 minutes ahead of the Sun. Just after mid-month, Venus vanishes in the dawn glow, returning to view after sunset in May. The Southern Cross, (Crux), is viewable EARLY morning this month. At mid-month, Crux rises high enough for viewing by 3AM. To view Crux, you'll need an unobstructed view to the southern horizon. At around 3:30AM Crux should be upright, very low on the southern horizon (nearly due South). Best viewing between 3:30 - 5AM. Look for 2 bright stars, Alpha & Beta Centauri, which "point" to the Cross to their right/west. At this time of morning, you should be able to see all the way from Polaris, (the North Star), to the bottom star in the Southern Cross, Acrux; (An important north-south navigational star-line, "Kaiwikuamo'o" ? the Backbone). Crux will be rising before midnight by the end of the month. For a February Hawaiian sky map, visit Bishop Museum Planetarium www.bishopmuseum.org/planetarium (bishopmuseum.org).

Maintained by Roz Reiner - Kauai, Hawaii

 

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