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Current Astronomy "Headlines"


New Moon February 08


First Quarter February 15


Full Moon February 22


Last Quarter March 1

Listed below are notable astronomical events coming up for the month of
February 2016:

Naked-Eye Planets

Mercury
At the start of February, Mercury rises just after 5:45 a.m. in the constellation Sagittarius. On the 6th (waning crescent Moon visits this morning!) and 7th of the month, Mercury reaches greatest western elongation from the Sun, at about 26 degrees. Thereafter, Mercury begins its descent toward the solar glare, making it much harder to see again by the end of the month, at which time it rises in eastern Capricornus nearer to 6:10 a.m.

Venus
On the first of the month in February, Venus rises in the constellation Sagittarius, at about 5:25 a.m. Venus is bypassed most closely by the waning crescent Moon, forming a triangle with the fleeting planet Mercury at that time, on the morning of the 6th. Venus seems to try to keep pace with Mercury for about a week or so afterwards, but cannot keep it up and the planetary “morning star” rises in central Capricornus at around 5:45 a.m.

Mars
At the beginning of February, Mars rises at about 1:10 a.m. in the constellation Libra, just under about 2 degrees from the star Alpha Librae, or Zubenelgenubi, and also in a line with the waning Last Quarter Moon. All month long, Mars continues to move eastward through Libra, yet also continue to rise slightly earlier every morning! By month’s end, Mars rises at about 12:20 a.m., about 6 degrees SE of the near-Last Quarter Moon, still in the constellation Libra.

Jupiter
Jupiter rises at about 8:50 p.m. at the beginning of February in extreme SW Leo, at about 12 degrees south of the star Denebola in the tail of the Lion. Jupiter continues its retrograde motion all this month and has transitioned deeply into the evening sky. The waning Full Moon bypasses Jupiter on the morning of the 23rd. By the end of the month Jupiter rises around 6:45 pm, only shortly after sunset. Next month is opposition!

Saturn
Saturn rises at about 3:30 a.m. technically in the constellation Ophiuchus at the start of February, and is viewable only about 8 degrees north of the bright star Antares of Scorpius nearby! The waning crescent Moon bypasses at about 5 degrees west of the Ringed Planet on the morning of the 3rd, in a triangle with the aforementioned Antares on that morning! By month’s end, Saturn has moved very little against the stars and rises at about 1:45 a.m.

Telescopic Planets

Uranus
At the beginning of February, Uranus is about 2 degrees south of the dim star Epsilon Piscium, moderately high in the SW about an hour after sunset in the constellation Pisces. The waxing crescent Moon bypasses closest on the night of 2/12, at about 8 degrees NE of Uranus, and Uranus finishes the month setting at a bit after 9 p.m. It is possible to observe Uranus through binoculars or telescopes as a pale blue, steadily-shining “star” in binoculars, and a small telescope at moderate-to-high power (about 75x or more) will reveal its disc (magnitude 5.9, and 3.4 arc-seconds on 2/29).

Neptune
At the start of the month, Neptune is only a little over 10 degrees above the WSW horizon at about an hour after sunset in the constellation Aquarius. The day-old crescent Moon bypasses closest on the evening of the 9th. Viewing conditions and angles get worse for Neptune throughout the month, as the blue giant planet descends ever deeper into the evening solar glare, culminating in solar conjunction on the 28th of the month. Thereafter, Neptune will rise in the morning sky before sunrise, although visibility for about another month will be just as poor in the morning sky. Still, with a flat horizon in the west, one might be able to spot the most distant known planet early in the month with optical aid. Neptune appears as a slightly deeper blue-hued “star” in binoculars than Uranus normally does, and also much less bright. A telescope will barely reveal a very small disc (magnitude 7.97, and 2.2 arc-seconds on 2/29) at high power (150x or more).

Dwarf Planets

Ceres
Ceres is actually not too far from Neptune in the sky, placing it in an even worse position for viewing than even that planet this month! Since it starts lower in the solar glare than Neptune does, yet moves more slowly through it toward solar conjunction, which occurs after the end of the month. Ceres is effectively hidden in the solar glare all month long, although technically in the evening sky.

Pluto
Pluto actually rises at about 5:45 p.m. in a decently close conjunction with the planet Mercury at the beginning of February, within roughly 1 degree of the swiftest planet. The waning crescent Moon, Mercury, and Venus all make a strange quadrilateral with the nearly invisible Pluto on the morning of the 6th. Pluto ends the month rising at about 4 a.m. in the constellation Sagittarius, less than a degree from the modest star Pi Sagittarii (Albaldah), which could potentially be used as a guide star to find it. However, actually finding it in a backyard telescope is another matter…! The icy dwarf planet is only visible as a very modest, slight “dot” of a star in a telescope of at least 8”-10” aperture. A very detailed star chart (as well as a great amount of patience and endurance!) is vitally necessary in order to spot it! Pluto glows feebly at magnitude 14.23.

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Meteor Showers - http://amsmeteors.org/showers.html

Viewable Comets - http://cometography.com/current_comets.html

Special events - http://www.skyandtelescope.com/observing/highlights

 

 

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