‘Rosette Nebula’ makes a great Valentine’s present for your beloved
For Feb. 2017, the Moon will be first quarter on Feb. 3. The moon is full on Feb. 10. In Native American tradition, this was known as the “hunger moon,” when almost all the stored harvest had been depleted. The waning gibbous moon passes 3 degrees north of bright Jupiter on Feb. 15, with both rising about 10 p.m. in the SE. The last quarter moon rises about midnight on Feb. 18. The waning crescent moon passes four degrees north of Saturn in the dawn on Feb. 20. The moon is new on Feb. 26, and passes in front of the sun for those in South Africa, but we will have to wait until Aug. 21, 2017 when the new moon will cover 82 percent of the Sun as seen from Pensacola at 1:37 p.m. (CDT). The waxing crescent moon makes a fine pair with brilliant Venus at dusk on Feb. 28, with Venus ten degrees north of the moon.
Mercury is too close to the Sun for easy observing this month. Venus dominates the evening sky for the next few weeks, but will be lost in the sun’s glare soon. It gets bigger in the telescope as it overtakes Earth, but the phase changes from 40 percent sunlit on Feb. 1 to only 17 percent crescent at month’s end. Mars was overtaken by faster moving Venus at the end of January, and is getting lost in the sun’s glare by month’s end. Jupiter dominates the late evening eastern sky, and passes 4 degrees north of Spica in Virgo on Feb. 23. The ringed planet Saturn will be coming to opposition on June 15, and is now northwest of the teapot of Sagittarius in the morning sky. Its rings are open about 27 degrees now, fully opened at Saturn’s solstice this year; when this opens, the huge reflecting surface of the ring’s ice boulders will double the planet’s brightness.
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. UWF 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.
The reddish supergiant Betelguese marks Orion’s eastern shoulder, while blue-white 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. 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. Midway between them is the fine Rosette Nebula, a great Valentine’s present for your beloved.
Sirius dominates the SE sky by 7 p.m., and as it rises, the turbulent winter air causes it to sparkle with shafts of spectral fire. Beautiful as the twinkling appears to the naked eye, for astronomers this means the image is blurry; only in space can we truly see “clearly now.” At eight light year’s distance, Sirius is the closest star we can easily see with the naked eye from West Florida.
When Sirius is highest, along our southern horizon, look for the second brightest star, Canopus, getting just above the horizon and sparkling like an exquisite diamond as the turbulent winter air twists and turns this shaft of starlight, after a trip of about 200 years!
To the northeast, a reminder that spring is coming; look for the bowl of the Big Dipper to rise, with the top two stars, the pointers, giving you a line to find Polaris, the Pole Star. But, if you take the pointers south, you are guided instead to the head of Leo the Lion rising in the east, looking much like the profile of the famed Sphinx. The bright star at the Lion’s heart is Regulus, the “regal star.” Fitting for our cosmic king of beasts, whose rising at the end of this month means March indeed will be coming in “like a lion.”
Download the February Evening Sky Map at skymaps.com for a list of the best objects to view with the naked eye, binoculars & scopes
WINTER STAR PARTIES
by the Escambia Amateur Astronomers
Big Lagoon State Park
Deep Sky Observing Sessions Saturday February 4th* Saturday February 18th
Saturday March 4th* Saturday March 18th
We plan to return to our spring public beach gazes at Pensacola Beach and Fort Pickens by Apr. 2017.
For more information on the Escambia Amateur Astronomers visit www.eaaa.net or call Dr. Wayne Wooten in the Physical Sciences Department of Pensacola State College at (850) 484-1152, or e-mail him at email@example.com.
Join them on Facebook at Escambia Amateur Astronomers Association.