2018-02-01 / Stargazing

Don’t waste time looking for a full moon

For February 2018, the moon will be last quarter on Feb. 7, with bright Jupiter four degrees south of it and with both rising about midnight in the southeast.

The waning crescent moon is four degrees north of Mars on the morning of Feb. 8. The crescent moon passes two degrees north of Saturn on Feb. 11. The new moon is on Feb. 15, with the Chinese New Year celebrated with the appearance of the waxing crescent the following evening.

The moon is first quarter on Feb. 23.

This month is unusual in that being February, with only 28 days, it does not have a full moon at all. They occur on Jan. 31, then again on March 2. All other months must have full moons, as the synodic cycle of the moon’s recurring phases takes 29.5 days.

Mercury and Venus are too close to the sun for easy observing this month. Venus will pass behind the sun and return to the evening sky later this spring. Mars passed Jupiter in the dawn in January and will not return to the evening sky until its close and bright opposition next July.


Timely for Valentine’s is the faint, but photogenic, “Heart Nebula” IC 1805. This photo by EAAA member Ed Magowan shows it nicely. Timely for Valentine’s is the faint, but photogenic, “Heart Nebula” IC 1805. This photo by EAAA member Ed Magowan shows it nicely. Jupiter also lies in the morning sky, and, like Saturn, will be best seen in summer and autumn evening skies.

The constellation Cassiopeia makes a striking W in the northwest. She contains many nice star clusters for binocular users in her outer arm of our Milky Way, extending to the northeast now.

Cassiopeia’s daughter, Andromeda, starts with the northeast corner star of Pegasus’ Square, and goes northeast with two more bright stars in a row. It is from the middle star, beta Andromeda, that we proceed about a quarter of the way to the top star in the W of Cassiopeia and look for a faint blur with the naked eye.

M-31, the Andromeda Galaxy, is the most distant object visible with the naked eye, lying about 2.5 million light years distant.

Overhead is Andromeda’s hero, Perseus. Between him and Cassiopeia is the fine Double Cluster, faintly visible with the naked eye and two fine binocular objects in the same field. Perseus contains the famed eclipsing binary star Algol, where the Arabs imagined the eye of the gorgon Medusa would lie. It fades to a third its normal brightness for six out of every 70 hours, as a larger but cooler orange giant covers about 80 percent of the smaller but hotter, and thus brighter, companion, as seen from Earth. At Perseus’ feet for the famed Pleiades cluster, they lie about 400 light years distant, and over 250 stars are members of this fine group.

East of the seven sisters is the V of stars marking the face of Taurus the Bull, with bright orange Aldebaran as his eye. The V of stars is the Hyades cluster, older than the blue Pleiades, but about half their distance.

Yellow Capella, a giant star the same temperature and color as our much smaller sun, dominates the overhead sky. It is part of the pentagon of stars making up Auriga, the Charioteer (think Ben Hur).

Several nice binocular Messier open clusters are found in the winter milky way here. East of Auriga, the twins, Castor and Pollux, highlight the Gemini.

University of West Florida alumni can associate the pair with Jason and the Golden Fleece legend, for they were the first two Argonauts to sign up on his crew of adventurers.

South of Gemini, Orion is the most familiar winter constellation, dominating the eastern sky at dusk. The reddish supergiant Betelguese marks his eastern shoulder, while bluewhite supergiant Rigel stands opposite, on his west knee.

Just south of the belt, hanging like a sword downward, is M-42, the Great Nebula of Orion, an outstanding binocular and telescopic stellar nursery. The bright diamond of four stars that light it up are the trapezium cluster, one of the finest sights in a telescope.

In the east rise the hunter’s two faithful companions, Canis major and minor. Procyon is the bright star in the little dog, and rises before Sirius, the brightest star in the sky.

PUBLIC GAZES

The EAAA is glad to announce that we will be hosting year around deep sky observing sessions on Saturday evenings for the public at the

Big Lagoon State Park

Our next gazes are scheduled for

Feb.9V23&March9V23

We hope to have our beach gazes for

Pensacola Beach Pavilion & Fort Pickens

ready by April 2018.

For more information on the Escambia Amateur Astronomers, visit us on Facebook at “Escambia Amateur Astronomer’s Association.”

You can also call our PSC sponsor, Lauren Rogers at

Pensacola State College, at (850) 484-1155, or e-mail her at lrogers@pensacolastate.edu.

Download the

February Evening Sky Map at skymaps.com for a list of the best objects to view with the naked eye, binoculars & scopes

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