Feb 04

What’s Up in the Sky

What’s Up in the Sky – February, 2013

A Good Month for Planets

You probably don’t have many fond memories of camping out under the stars or lying on the beach enjoying the night sky in February.  In fact, it is likely most readers have no such memories at all, fond or otherwise, since Michiganders tend to stay inside at night this time of year.  Good news.  This month there are several opportunities for good viewing from the warmth of your home or car.

The first opportunity occurs, unfortunately, before sunrise.  If you are up next Sunday an hour before the Sun, look for the third quarter Moon (the “left” side will be lit  up) in the south-southwest.  The planet Saturn can be spotted just above and to the right of the Moon.  No big shakes but, hey, it’s Saturn.

The next sight is more conveniently timed but much more difficult to see so binoculars are a must.  During the first week of February, start scanning the western horizon fifteen to twenty minutes after sunset and see if you can find Mars.  It won’t be difficult to identify because if you see anything in the binocs, it will be Mars.  Toward the end of the week Mars is joined by the planet Mercury, the two being separated by only the width of a full Moon on the 8th.  Be forewarned, however, that in order to witness this close pairing we will need very clear skies all the way to the horizon.

If you do not have good luck finding the planets, try looking again on the 11th when you should be able to see a very thin crescent Moon near the western horizon 45 minutes after sunset.  Scan down and left with the binocs to find Mars and Mercury.  That would be very cool.

Then we have the easiest observation of all, again involving the Moon and a planet, this time – Jupiter. If you go out any night next month you can easily see Jupiter blazing near the Pleiades, seemingly leading Orion on his nightly journey across the sky.  On the nights of February 17 and 18, they will be joined by a lovely first quarter Moon.  This one is easy and will be memorable.

So either bundle up or gaze out the window, there’s plenty to enjoy up in the sky.

This month in history:
Feb. 1:    Shuttle Columbia breaks apart during reentry killing all 7 astronauts – 2003
Feb. 6:    Alan Shepard hits first golf balls on Moon – 1971
Feb. 8:    Jules Verne born – 1828
Feb. 15:    Galileo Galilei born – 1564
Feb. 19:    Nicholas Copernicus born – 1473
Feb. 23:    Light from supernova 1987a reaches Earth – 1987
Feb. 24:    Detection of first pulsar (by Jocelyn Bell in 1967) is announced – 1968