|Update on Comet PanSTARRS: The incoming comet that we once hoped would make a fine showing in March now seems unlikely to brighten past 3rd magnitude. It will be low in the western evening twilight, so even peaking at 2nd magnitude might not be quite bright enough to be visible to the unaided eye. But PanSTARRS should be in range of binoculars and wide-field telescopes. See our updates and finder charts at SkyandTelescope.com/panstarrs.|
Friday, February 22
Saturday, February 23
Sunday, February 24
After dinnertime at this time of year, four carnivore constellations stand in a row from the northeast to south. They're all seen in profile with their noses pointed up and their feet (if any) to the right: Ursa Major in the northeast (with the Big Dipper as its brightest part), Leo in the east (with the Moon by his forefoot tonight), Hydra the Sea Serpent in the southeast, and Canis Major in the south.
Monday, February 25
Tuesday, February 26
Wednesday, February 27
Thursday, February 28
Friday, March 1
Saturday, March 2
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 guide to 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 with a telescope effectively.
You'll also want a good deep-sky guidebook, such as Sue French's 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 beloved if dated Burnham's Celestial Handbook.
This Week's Planet Roundup
Mercury is low in the western twilight and rapidly fading: from magnitude +0.8 on February 22nd to +4 on March 1st! Catch it early in the week before it's gone.
Venus is hidden in the glare of the Sun.
Mars is lost in the glow of sunset, even lower than Mercury.
Jupiter (bright at magnitude 2.4, in Taurus) comes into view very high in the south after sunset and dominates the southwest later in the evening. To its left is orange Aldebaran; farther to its right are the Pleiades. The whole group sets in the west-northwest around 1 a.m. local time.
In a telescope, Jupiter is shrinking as Earth pulls farther ahead of it in our faster orbit around the Sun. This week it shrinks from 40 to 39 arcseconds wide.
Saturn (magnitude +0.5, in Libra) rises in the east-southeast around 11 p.m. Watch for it to come up well to the lower left of Spica and farther to the lower right of brighter Arcturus. Saturn shines highest in the south before dawn — more or less between Spica to its right and Antares farther to its lower left.
Uranus (magnitude 5.9, in Pisces) is getting low in the west after dusk. But after I said last week that Uranus is "disappearing," Trond Larsen in Norway wrote to say that Uranus "is still easily observable; it's closing in on [the similarly bright star] 44 Piscium." Based on past experience, he says, "I think the duo Uranus/44 Psc will remain visible until about March 5." You will, however, need clear air and a good low western view. But you've already been scouting out good low western views for Comet PanSTARRS, right?
Neptune is in conjunction with Sun.
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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