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Sky Report -February 2011

Orion Best in Early Evening while Jupiter Drops Lower at Dusk

Orion, the year’s brightest star group peaks in the South in the first half of the evening. Orion has an hour glass shape with two bright stars on top, three close stars in the middle and two bright stars at the bottom. Orion’s conspicuous star on the upper left is Betelgeuse, shining with a pinkish tint. Orion’s brightest star is white-blue Rigel, on the lower right. Halfway between these two stellar beacons is Orion’s three star belt. The belt points down and left to Sirius, the night’s brightest star. Sirius is the nearest night star visible to the eye at a distance of 9 light years. The belt points up and rightward to the bright orange star Aldebaran and the 7 Sisters star cluster. Both Aldebaran and the 7 Sisters are in Taurus, the Bull. High over Orion is the bright golden star Capella. Capella marks the eye of Auriga, the Chariot Driver. If you make a line from Rigel through Betelgeuse and extend it, you come to Gemini’s two bright stars, Pollux and Castor. Below Pollux and Castor is the bright star Procyon, the head of the Little Dog. All the bright stars mentioned above form a huge oval with Betelgeuse near the center. With its six sides, this formation is called the Winter Hexagon.

Jupiter can still be seen in the west in the first hours of darkness. In early February, Jupiter is setting about 9:30 p.m. which drops to 8:30 p.m. in late February. On the evening of February 6th, the crescent moon will appear to the right of Jupiter in the western dusk. On the next evening, the moon will appear over and slightly to the right of Jupiter. The evening moon will appear half full on February 10th. This is the best phase (lighted shape) to view the moon’s craters and mountains; look along the moon’s left edge where the sun is rising, throwing the craters and mountain peaks into sharp relief. The gibbous moon appears over Orion on the evening of February 13th. The moon is fullest on the evening of February 17th, then appearing near the sickle of Leo. On the morning of February 21st, the moon appears near the planet Saturn in the southern dawn. On the last dawn of February, the crescent moon appears near the brilliant planet Venus in the Southeast. During February; Venus’s rising time ahead of the sun drops from 3 hours to 2 hours during February.

The Big Dipper is quite striking in February, appearing half way up in the North Northeast. The two upper stars point down and to the left to the North Star. All heavenly bodies seem to rotate about the North Star. This illusion is due to the Earth’s northern axis nearly pointing to the North Star. Just as the Big Dipper is slowly climbing higher in the sky, the star group Cassiopeia is dropping lower into North Northwest. A few months ago, Cassiopeia resembled a stretched out “M” but now is tipped sidewards. During the warmer months, Cassiopeia is low in the North and resembles a “W”.

Featured at the Frostburg State Planetarium in February is “The End of Everything”, some extrapolations of how humanity, life on Earth, the Earth itself and how the universe may end. Also included is a tour of the current evening sky. Our free public presentation will be on February 6th, 13th, 20th and 27th at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. Our 45 minute program also includes an informal tour of the current evening sky. The Planetarium is in Tawes 302, just off the front lobby. Tawes Hall is across from the Compton Science Center and behind the Performing Arts Center. Call (301) 687-7799 and leave your name and mailing address to receive a planetarium bookmark (includes a FSU map showing the Planetarium and parking areas nearby).

By Dr. Bob Doyle

To contact Dr. Doyle, his mailing address is Planetarium, Frostburg State University, Frostburg, MD 21532 or by email at rdoyle@frostburg.edu.









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