Sky at a Glance | February 28th, 2014

The supernova in M82 is still hanging in. Six week after its outburst began, it's still about visual magnitude 11.7. And it's reddening. Take another look while the evening sky is still moonless. See our updated article.

Supernova in M82 on Feb. 4, 2014
Supernova 2014J was at its peak brightness when S&T's J. Kelly Beatty took this shot on February 4th, working remotely from Massachusetts with a 24-inch telescope in California. S&T's imaging editor Sean Walker did the image processing.
Alan MacRobert

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Friday, February 28

  • Sirius shines in the south after dinnertime. It's the brightest star in the night sky. Have you ever seen Canopus, the second-brightest? In one of the many interesting coincidences that devoted skywatchers know about, Canopus lies almost due south of Sirius: by 36°. That's far enough south that it never appears above your horizon unless you're below latitude 37° N (southern Virginia, southern Missouri, central California). And there you'll need a flat south horizon. Canopus crosses the south point on the horizon just 21 minutes before Sirius does.

    When to look? Canopus is due south when Beta Canis Majoris — Murzim, the star a few finger-widths to the right of Sirius — is at its highest point due south. Look straight down from Murzim then.

  • Jupiter's moon Io crosses in front of Jupiter's face from 5:56 to 8:11 p.m. Eastern Standard Time this evening. Its tiny black shadow follows behind from 7:02 to 9:17 p.m. EST. Jupiter's Great Red Spot transits the planet's central meridian around 9:09 p.m. EST.

    Saturday, March 1

  • Look east after dusk this week for the constellation Leo already climbing up the sky. Its brightest star is Regulus, and the Sickle of Leo extends upper left from there. As the saying goes, Leo announces spring.

    Sunday, March 2

  • The 7th-magnitude asteroid 2 Pallas is now passing 3° east of Alphard in Hydra in the southeastern evening sky. Find it with binoculars or a small telescope using the chart in the March Sky & Telescope, page 51.

    Monday, March 3

  • Look high above the Moon in the west after dark for the stars of Aries hanging almost vertically.

    Tuesday, March 4

  • Around the trailing foot of Gemini and top of Orion's Club are star clusters and nebulae both famous and obscure. Track them down with your telescope using Sue French's Deep-Sky Wonders column, photos and chart in the March Sky & Telescope, page 56.

    Wednesday, March 5

  • The huge "Winter Diamond" of 2014 stands upright in the south around 8 p.m. now. It's formed by Jupiter on top and Sirius on the bottom — the two brightest points in the evening sky — and Procyon forming its left corner and Betelgeuse as its right corner.

    Thursday, March 6

  • After nightfall, look for Aldebaran to the upper left of the Moon and the Pleiades to the Moon's upper right, as shown below.

    As twilight fades
    The waxing Moon passes over Orion as it waxes through first quarter. These scenes are 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. In the Far East, move it halfway. The blue 10° scale is about the size of your fist held at arm's length.

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    Friday, March 7

  • Look below the Moon this evening for Aldebaran, as shown above. Aldebaran is an orange giant star 65 light-years from Earth. The Hyades stars around it are 150 light-years away. Far off to their left is Betelgeuse in the top of Orion. Less far to their right are the Pleiades.

    Saturday, March 8

  • At dusk the first-quarter Moon stands above Orion high in the south, as shown above. The bright light upper left of the Moon is Jupiter in Gemini.

  • Daylight-saving time begins at 2 a.m. Sunday morning for most of North America. Clocks spring forward an hour.


    Want to become a better astronomer? Learn your way around the constellations. They're the key to locating everything fainter and deeper to hunt with binoculars or a telescope.

    This is an outdoor nature hobby. 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).

    Pocket Sky Atlas
    The Pocket Sky Atlas plots 30,796 stars to magnitude 7.6 — which may sound like a lot, but that's less than one star in an entire telescopic field of view, on average. By comparison, Sky Atlas 2000.0 plots 81,312 stars to magnitude 8.5, typically one or two stars per telescopic field. Both atlases include many hundreds of deep-sky targets — galaxies, star clusters, and nebulae — to hunt among the stars.
    Sky & Telescope

    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 once you know your way around, the even larger Uranometria 2000.0 (stars to magnitude 9.75). And read how to use sky charts with a telescope.

    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.

    Can a computerized telescope replace charts? Not for beginners, I don't think, and not on mounts and tripods that are less than top-quality mechanically (able to point with better than 0.2° repeatability, which means fairly heavy and expensive). As Terence Dickinson and Alan Dyer say in their invaluable 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

    Jupiter and Ganymede on March 2, 2014
    Unlike Jupiter's moons Io and Europa, Ganymede and Callisto are darker than most of Jupiter's surface, as seen dramatically in this high-resolution image of Ganymede near Jupiter's central meridian taken by Christopher Go at 11:20 UT March 2nd. You might even mistake it for its shadow! (The faint light ring that appears inside Ganymede is a processing artifact caused by its sharp dark edge against the lighter background).


    South is up. The reddish oval near Ganymede is Oval BA in the South Temperate Zone.


    Mercury (brightening from magnitude +0.8 to +0.3 this week) glimmers low above the east-southeast horizon during dawn. Look for it far lower left of Venus.

    Venus (magnitude –4.8) blazes as the "Morning Star" before and during dawn; look southeast. A small telescope shows that it's a thickening crescent.

    Mars (magnitude –0.5, in Virgo) rises around 9 or 10 p.m., a fiery blaze 6° to the left of icy Spica. The two of them are highest in the south around 2 or 3 a.m., with Spica now lower right of Mars.

    In a telescope Mars has grown to about 12 arcseconds wide, on its way to an apparent diameter of 15.1″ when it passes closest by Earth in mid-April. See the telescopic Mars map and observing guide in the March Sky & Telescope, page 50.

    Jupiter (magnitude –2.4, in Gemini) dominates the high south during evening. No other point in the evening sky is so bright. See our articles on observing Jupiter in the January Sky & Telescope or the briefer online introduction Jupiter: Big, Bright, and Beautiful.

    Saturn (magnitude +0.5, in Libra) rises around 11 or midnight and is highest in the south before dawn. By then it's far left of Mars and Spica, and less far to the upper right of Mars-colored Antares.

    Uranus sinks away in the west after dusk.

    Neptune is hidden in conjunction with the 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) is Universal Time (UT, UTC, or GMT) minus 5 hours.


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