February Skies

Happy ground hog day! Despite the mild winter in the south, Punxsutawney Phil says we will have six more weeks of winter.

This month the planets are on display with great evening views of Saturn, Venus, Jupiter, Mercury and Mars. Venus is brilliant in the east after sundown. The goddess of love sets 2 minutes later each day so by end of month remains visible to 9:30 EST. During the last 10 days of the month, Mercury joins Venus in the west at twilight.

Uranus is the third larget planet in the solar system but its distance makes it hard to find without a nearby signpost. This month Venus is the signpost and will be less than a degree away from Uranus between 3rd and 15th. Look for a pale bluish dot above and to the left of Venus with binoculars and you might just catch a glimpse. Venus is 1000 times brighter than Uranus so look closely.

On February 25th the crescent Moon and Venus are within 3 degrees making a brilliant combination in the west after sunset. The night before on the 24th look for a planetary love fest as Mercury, Venus and Jupiter snuggle up with the crescent moon just after sunset. See the image at this link for what you should see.

Jupiter still dominates the sky near the zenith during February setting in the west around midnight. If you have access to a small telescope you may be able to see the transit of Jupiter’s moon Europa as it passes in front of the giant planet’s face. Starting at 7:40 you should be able to see Europa’s shadow during its two hour transit.

Mars rises around 9 PM. Get ready for the best views in two years next month as Mars reaches opposition and peak visibilty in early March.

Last but not least, Saturn rises by midnight. Night owls will have a great view of Saturn’s rings through binoculars or a small telescope.

Thats it for this month. Remember to turn off you outside lights and go out and enjoy the night skies of Balsam Mountain Preserve.

Jim Stratigos

Resident Astronomer

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