Highlights of the February Night Sky
By Bob Haskins
Do your part and help preserve the dark skies that we are fortunate to have
in Waterville Estates. Turn off all unnecessary outdoor lighting
Go outside tonight and be a stargazer
The Planets: Evenings on the “Ecliptic” The Sun and the planets all follow an imaginary path in the sky called the ecliptic.
This month, as was January, is not the best month if you want to spot the planets in the nighttime sky with the exception of Venus. Toward the end of the month you should be able to spot Venus 10 degrees or one fist held out at arms length above the western horizon.
Jupiter and Mars don’t rise until 2 a.m. Look for it in the south at dawn.
Stars and Constellations
The constellation Orion “The Hunter” is one of the few constellations that vividly suggests what it represents; in this case a mythological figure of a hunter with his club, sword by his side and his shield facing the horns of a charging bull. Look for three equally bright stars, all lined up in a row, in the south (see attached diagram). These stars represent his belt. His sword hangs from his belt and his shield is held by his outstretched arm. The bright star Rigel below the belt is his left foot. The fuzzy object in the sword is called a nebula (M42) or the Orion Nebula (Google it). The reddish star to the upper right of the belt and near his shield is Aldebaran, which represents the eye of Taurus the charging bull.
The bright star Sirius, the “dog star”, is located lower and to the left. If you are in the Estates it should be dark enough to make out the stick figure of a dog standing on its hind legs (refer to diagram). Sirius represents the head of the dog. Try and locate Pollux and Castor the “Twins”. Look south and bend your head back. The two bright stars about 5° apart , 3 finger breadths at arms length, represent the heads of the twins. Castor and Pollux were the mythical sons of the ancient Greek god, Zeus. I have drawn the “Winter Hexagon” , which is called an asterism (informal star pattern) in this month’s diagram which connects most of the important winter stars. See if you can connect the dots.
There were five astronomy stories that were inclucled in the top ten science stories of 2017.
- Gravitational waves that were detected from two merging neutron stars.
- The Trappist.1 system which contain seven Earth like planets.
- Cassini ended its incredible mission by diving into the planet Saturn.
- First known interstellar visitor “Oumuamua” which probably came from the star system Vega. This huge cigar shaped rock will leave our solar system in 2023.
- The August total eclipse
Comment / Factoid of the Month
We live on a whiling ball of rock that rotates once every 24 hours at 1000 mph. The reason we don’t notice that we are moving is that the Earth is huge and we are pinned to the surface. We have evolved over many generations to think that the Earth is fixed and the sky spins around us. That is why we say the Sun rises. The stars move across the sky because we move under them.
Astronomy Websites to Explore
- heavens-above.com (satellites that are passing overhead)
- com (The evening sky map for the month)
spotthestation.nasa.gov (sign up for alerts for the International Space Station)ead in your area)