Feb 01

February 2010

What’s Up in the Sky February, 2010
By Peter Burkey

We often equate February with cold, dreary, gray days, but the month can also offer fine observing opportunities. Although there are no spectacular eclipses of meteor showers scheduled for this month, you can still enjoy some fine planetary sights.

As the month begins, the planet Jupiter can be found above the western horizon after sunset. In the east, just below the stars Castor and Pollux, is the planet Mars. However, Mars’ brightness fades as the month progresses.

If you observe Jupiter each night, you will notice that it is soon joined by another bright object, the planet Venus. On the 14th, 15th, and 16th, look for the two planets very close together and below the crescent Moon. Remember, you are looking toward the western horizon, 20 minutes after sunset.

Saturn is also visible, although later on in the night. It rises over four hours after sunset on Feb. 1 but less than two hours after by month’s end. It is currently interesting to observe Saturn as it’s rings are nearly edge-on as seen from our perspective. Of course, a clear night and a small telescope are required to be able to see the rings.

On the Feb. 4th, use binoculars to look at Mars, well up in the east 1 – 2 hours after sunset. Scan a little to the right of the planet and you should be able to spot M44, the Beehive cluster in the constellation Cancer.

So hope for clear weather so you can enjoy the sights up in the sky.

This month in history:
Feb. 1: Shuttle Columbia breaks apart during reentry killing all 7 astronauts – 2003
Feb. 4: Pluto discoverer Clyde Tombaugh born – 1906
Feb. 6: Alan Shepard hits first golf balls on Moon – 1971
Feb. 14: Voyager 1 looks back to take photo of solar system – 1990
Feb. 15: Galileo Galilei born – 1564
Feb. 19: Nicholas Copernicus born – 1473
Feb. 20: John Glenn is first American to orbit Earth – 1962
Feb. 24: Detection of first pulsar (by Jocelyn Bell in 1967) is announced – 1968

Here are this month’s viewing highlights:
Planets this month: Venus and Jupiter play tag near western horizon, Feb. 11-17. Look 20 minutes after sunset. Saturn rises several hours after sunset and remains visible for the rest of the night. Look for Mars between Gemini and Leo high in southeast after sunset.

Feb. 5: Last quarter Moon.
Feb. 11: Use binoculars to see Jupiter and Venus near western horizon 20 minutes after sunset. Watch nightly.
Feb. 13: New Moon.
Feb. 15: Look for crescent Moon above Jupiter and Venus.
Feb. 21: First quarter Moon.
Feb. 28: Full Moon.