Night Sky for February, 2010
Astronomer Tom Whelan summarises what is in the Taranaki heavens for each month.
Sun: Although the Sun remains high in the sky at 64 degrees elevation, our nights begin to lengthen as the month goes on. [Image1]
Moon: There is no Full Moon, this February. Last Quarter is on the 6th and New Moon falls on the 14th. First Quarter follows on the 22nd.
Mercury is well positioned for viewing in the morning sky for the first half of the month. It rises about 4.45am and appears as a bright yellowish star in the east, in the constellation of Sagittarius. On the 12th , the crescent Moon is just over 4 degrees above the planet. [Image2]
Venus remains in the evening sky but is too close to the Sun to be easily found.
Mars is now at its best for the year. A little after sunset, look to the north east for a very bright reddish-orange star. On the night of the 26th, the near Full Moon will be around 5 degrees above Mars. [Image3]
One of the Mars Explorers is no longer mobile, having become caught in a sand trap. NASA has a video on its web site, taken on the surface of the planet, which explains the situation.
Jupiter is in conjunction with the Sun on the 28th. This means that it spends the month lost in the evening twilight. On the 17th, Venus is only half a degree from Jupiter, just after sunset.
Saturn rises at around 10pm and is best viewed in the late evening. The famous Rings are only partly open and appear as thick bars, either side of the planet. The Moon is close to Saturn on the night of the 2nd and 3rd. [Image4]
Stars and Constellations
The Milky Way lies overhead, with the constellations of the Southern Cross in the south and Taurus in the north marking its visible boundaries. Sirius and Canopus, the two brightest stars, appear almost overhead. [image5]
If we look northwards, Orion, with its distinctive belt of stars is readily picked out.
To its west is the bright star Aldebaran, which belongs to Taurus. Slightly lower, to the north east of Orion, are the two main stars of Gemini - Castor and Pollux.
The Magellanic Clouds lie below Canopus and to the west of the Southern Cross.
(Prepared for The Taranaki Daily News by Tom Whelan, Cape Egmont Observatory)
List of images and links
Image1: Mini Almanac
Image2: Moon and Mercury
Image3: Moon and Mars
Image4: Saturn and Mars
Image5: Overhead sky
NASA Mars website
Sky and Telescope
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