Sky at a Glance | February 8th, 2008

Some daily events in the changing sky for February 8 – 16.

Facing southeast and looking very high after dinnertime
The waxing Moon will shine near Mars and especially Beta (β) Tauri on the evening of February 15th, while Capella looks on. This view is drawn for the middle of North America. European observers: move each Moon symbol a quarter of the way toward the one for the previous date.
Sky & Telescope diagram

Friday, February 8

  • The Moon is a thin crescent low after sunset this evening and is no threat to dark-sky observing — yet. In a few days its increasing light will hamper the view of dim objects. One of those is Comet Holmes, still in Perseus, now huge but very dim. Try for the comet with binoculars before the Moon horns in. Chart. On what date will you last see it?

    Saturday, February 9

  • February is when the Big Dog, Canis Major, prances highest in the south after dinnertime, showing off brilliant Sirius on his collar. With a telescope, you can hunt for more galaxies and clusters here than you probably ever knew. See Sue French's "Deep-Sky Wonders" column and chart in the February Sky & Telescope, page 74.

    Sunday, February 10

  • A small telescope will always show Titan, Saturn's largest moon. Tonight and tomorrow night Titan is about four ring-lengths to Saturn's west. A 6-inch telescope will begin to show the orange color of its atmospheric haze. (A guide to identifying all six of Saturn's satellites visible in amateur scopes is in the February Sky & Telescope, page 62.)

    Monday, February 11

  • If you happen to live at latitude 46° north (the Oregon-Washington border, Montreal, central Maine, central France), bright Capella passes exactly over your head once a day. If you're south of there, Capella passes 1° north of your zenith for every degree you're south of that latitude. At this time of year it happens around 7:50 p.m. (depending on how far east or west you live in your time zone). Look straight up; when does Capella most seem like it could fall right onto you?

    Tuesday, February 12

  • Look a little to the right of the Moon this evening for the two or three brightest stars of the little constellation Aries. They're lined up more or less vertically. The brightest one, on top, is Hamal, 2nd magnitude and pale orange.

    Wednesday, February 13

  • First-quarter Moon (exact at 11:33 p.m. Eastern Standard Time). Upper left of it are the Pleiades.

    Thursday, February 14

  • If you're out as late as 11 p.m., look east for an early sign of spring: Arcturus, the "Spring Star," already sparkling low above the still-bare trees.

    Friday, February 15

  • Shining near the Moon this evening are Mars, pale yellow-orange, and Beta Tauri, pale blue-white. See the illustration above.

    Saturday, February 16

  • Plan now for the total eclipse of the full Moon that's coming next Wednesday evening, February 20th, as seen from the Americas (on the morning of the 21st from Western Europe). Throw an eclipse party! See our online article and the February Sky & Telescope, page 68.

    Totally Eclipsed Moon
    A preview of the Moon on the 20th? The total lunar eclipse of March 3-4, 2007, was a relatively bright one. S&T editor Rick Fienberg captured this view from Garching, Germany, where he was attending a planning meeting for the International Year of Astronomy 2009. Click image for larger view.
    S&T: Rick Fienberg

    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 foldout map in 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 maps; the standard is Sky Atlas 2000.0) and good deep-sky guidebooks (such as Sky Atlas 2000.0 Companion by Strong and Sinnott, the even more detailed Night Sky Observer's Guide by Kepple and Sanner, or the enchanting though increasingly dated Burnham's Celestial Handbook). Read how to use them effectively.

    More beginners' tips: "How to Start Right in Astronomy".

    This Week's Planet Roundup

    Mercury is hidden in the glow of the sunrise.

    Venus (magnitude –3.9, in Sagittarius) is getting lower every morning. Look for it above the southeast horizon about 30 or 40 minutes before sunrise, to the lower left of Jupiter. On Friday morning the 8th Venus and Jupiter are still only 7° apart, but by Saturday the 16th they draw to 15° apart.

    Mars (about magnitude –0.3, in eastern Taurus) shines very high in the south during evening, high above Orion. The fairly bright star near it is Beta (β) Tauri, also known as El Nath, magnitude +1.6 and pale blue-white. Mars is just about in the center of the big quadrilateral formed by Capella, Aldebaran, Betelgeuse, and the Pollux-Castor pair.

    In a telescope, Mars diminishes from 11.1 to 10.3 arcseconds in apparent diameter this week. See the observing guide and surface-feature map in the November Sky & Telescope, page 66, or the short version online.

    Jupiter is getting easier to see low in the southeast during early dawn. It's moving farther to the upper right of Venus by 1° per day.

    Saturn on Feb. 7–8, 2008
    Saturn's rings are currently tilted only 8° to our line of sight. Sean Walker took this fine image at the Winter Star Party in the Florida Keys on the night of February 7–8, using Don Parker's Takahashi Mewlon 250 (10-inch) DK telescope in strong winds. Note the dusky C ring just inside the broad, bright B ring. The C ring is obvious as a dark silhouette where it crosses in front of the globe. Just beyond the rings' outer edge, their shadow on the globe forms a thin black line. The globe's shadow on the rings is seen just beyond the limb at lower right.
    S&T: Sean Walker
    Saturn (magnitude +0.3, in Leo) is nearly at opposition. It rises in the east in late dusk and stands highest in the south around midnight. Fainter Regulus (magnitude +1.4) is 6° west of Saturn: to its upper right after they rise. Only a little dimmer than Regulus is Gamma (γ) Leonis (magnitude +2.1), located 8° to Regulus's north. The three make an eye-catching triangle.

    Uranus and Neptune are lost in the glow of sunset.

    Pluto (magnitude 14.0, in Sagittarius) is low in the southeast before the first light of dawn.

    All descriptions that relate to your horizon or zenith — including the words up, down, right, and left — are written for the world's midnorthern latitudes. Descriptions that also depend on longitude (mainly Moon positions) are for North America. Eastern Standard Time (EST) equals Universal Time (UT, UTC, or GMT) minus 5 hours.

    To be sure you always get the current Sky at a Glance, bookmark this URL:
    http://SkyandTelescope.com/observing/ataglance?1=1

    If pictures fail to load, refresh the page.