This Week's Sky at a Glance
Some daily events in the changing sky for February 3 11
Friday, February 3
Saturday, February 4
Sunday, February 5
Monday, February 6
Meanwhile, Jupiter's Great Red Spot transits the planet's central meridian around 9:32 p.m. EST. For timetables of all of Jupiter's satellite doings and Red Spot transits in February, see the February Sky & Telescope, page 53.
Wednesday, February 8
Thursday, February 9
Friday, February 10
Saturday, February 11
Want to become a better amateur astronomer? Learn your way around the constellations. They're the key to locating everything fainter and deeper to hunt with binoculars or a telescope.
For an easy-to-use constellation guide covering the whole evening sky, use the big monthly map in the center of each issue of Sky & Telescope, the essential magazine of astronomy. Or download our free Getting Started in Astronomy booklet (which only has bimonthly maps).
Once you get a telescope, to put it to good use you'll need a detailed, large-scale sky atlas (set of charts). The standards are the little Pocket Sky Atlas, which shows stars to magnitude 7.6; the larger and deeper Sky Atlas 2000.0 (stars to magnitude 8.5); and the even larger Uranometria 2000.0 (stars to magnitude 9.75). And read how to use sky charts effectively.
You'll also want a good deep-sky guidebook, such as Sue French's new Deep-Sky Wonders collection (which includes its own charts), Sky Atlas 2000.0 Companion by Strong and Sinnott, the bigger Night Sky Observer's Guide by Kepple and Sanner, or the classic if dated Burnham's Celestial Handbook.
Can a computerized telescope replace charts? I don't think so not for beginners, anyway, and especially not on mounts that are less than top-quality mechanically. As Terence Dickinson and Alan Dyer say in their Backyard Astronomer's Guide, "A full appreciation of the universe cannot come without developing the skills to find things in the sky and understanding how the sky works. This knowledge comes only by spending time under the stars with star maps in hand."
This Week's Planet Roundup
Mercury is out of sight in conjunction with the Sun. By the end of February, however, it will be back in view having its best evening apparition of the year, low in the western twilight.
Venus (magnitude 4.1, in Pisces) is the most brilliant “Evening Star” shining in the southwest during and after dusk. It doesn't set now until a good two hours after dark. Venus will continue to appear a little higher, and stay up a little later, each week all this winter. In a telescope it's still a small gibbous disk, 15 or 16 arcseconds in diameter and 72% sunlit, as seen above. It will reach half-lit phase (dichotomy) in mid- to late March.
Mars (about magnitude 0.7, at the Leo-Virgo border) rises in the east around 8 p.m., far beneath Regulus and the Sickle of Leo. It's to the right or lower right of 2nd-magnitude Denebola. Mars is brightening rapidly as it approaches Earth. It shines highest in the south, in best telescopic view, around 2 or 3 a.m.
In a telescope Mars has grown to about 12.4 arcseconds wide, close to the 13.9″ it will display when it's nearest to Earth in early March. Mars appears only slightly gibbous now: 97% sunlit.
Jupiter (magnitude 2.3, still at the Aries-Pisces border) shines high in the south-southwest at dusk, moves lower toward the southwest as evening advances, and sets in the west around 11 or midnight. In a telescope Jupiter has shrunk to 39 or 38 arcseconds wide, as Earth pulls ahead of it in our faster orbit around the Sun.
Saturn (magnitude +0.6, in Virgo) rises in the east around 11 and is shines highest in the south before dawn. Spica, a bit fainter at magnitude +1.0, is 7° to its right or upper right. Saturn's rings are now tilted a generous 15° from our line of sight. This is the most open the rings have appeared since 2007.
Uranus (magnitude 5.9, in Pisces) is in southwest after dark approaching Venus. Uranus will pass 0.3° south (lower left) of Venus on the evening of February 9th.
Neptune is lost in twilight.
All descriptions that relate to your horizon including the words up, down, right, and left are written for the world's mid-northern latitudes. Descriptions that also depend on longitude (mainly Moon positions) are for North America. Eastern Standard Time (EST) equals Universal Time (also known as UT, UTC, or GMT) minus 5 hours.
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