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Sky Report - February 2012

Venus Seen Longer, Jupiter Closer, Mars & Mercury Seen in Late February    

This month, the best sky sights involve the evening planets. The brilliant planet Venus is setting later each night; by month's end, Venus is setting nearly four hours after sunset (about 6:00 p.m.). The second brightest planet, Jupiter lies to the East of Venus. At the start of February, the two planets are about 30 degrees apart, which narrows to 12 degrees at the end of the month. The planet Mars is slowly creeping into the evening sky, rising in the East about 8:45 p.m. in early February to about sunset (6:00 p.m.) at the end of month. In the last week of February, the planet Mercury can be seen low in the southwestern dusk, setting 90 minutes after the sun.

February opens with the moon close to the Pleiades (7 Sisters) star cluster. On February 3rd, the moon appears above the star group Orion. The evening moon grows to full on February 7th. On February 9th, the moon is to the right of the planet Mars. On February 12th, the moon appears near the planet Saturn, rising just before midnight. On February 21st, the moon passes North of the sun, swinging from the morning side of the sun (to the West) to the evening side of the sun (to the East). On February 22nd, a very slim crescent moon appears to the right of the planet Mercury very low in the 6:30 p.m. western dusk. On February 25th, the crescent moon appears to the right of the brilliant planet Venus. On the next evening, the crescent moon will be to the right of the bright planet Jupiter. On February 27th, the crescent moon will appear above Jupiter .

Early February Sights - In the first few days of February, the moon's craters are easily seen with binoculars or telescope as shadows are long along the moon's left edge (where sun is rising). The evening moon appears above Orion, the brightest star group on February 3rd. Orion's trademark feature is his belt of three stars in a row. Orion's belt points left and down to Sirius, the night's brightest star. The night after full, the evening moon appears close to Regulus, the heart star of Leo. The Big Dipper is well up in the North Northeast with its two top stars pointing left and down to the North Star.

Mid February Sights - The moon is a morning sky object, appearing half full in the southern dawn sky on February 14th. With the absence of the moon from the evening sky, the brighter stars in the South form a huge "W". The middle stars are the two brightest stars in Orion, pinkish Betelgeuse on top and white-blue Rigel below. The two leftmost stars are Sirius (on bottom left) and Procyon (on top left). The rightmost star of the "W" is Aldebaran, found by extending Orion's belt to the right.

Late February Sights - Unmatched is the gliding of the moon by three planets. Difficult but possible under a clear western dusk, a very slender crescent moon may be seen to the right of the planet Mercury in the 6:30 p.m. on February 22nd. On the next evening, the moon will be more easily seen and high above Mercury. On February 25th, the crescent moon will appear to the right of brilliant Venus. On the next evening, the crescent moon is to the right of the planet Jupiter. On February 27th, the moon will appear above Jupiter. On the last evening of February, the evening moon appears half full in Taurus, offering good view of the moon's craters and mountains through binoculars or telescopes.

Our February sky shows will resume at 4 p.m. on Sundays in Compton 224. Our new feature will be "Bears and their Skies". Our programs will feature a tour of the winter evening sky on a large screen. Our main feature will cover the main species of bears, both arctic and tropical. The skies seen by these bears will be shown. Then the program will end with viewing our bears in the Science Discovery Center (where four different species are on display). So each Sunday of February will feature a sky show and program at 4 p.m. in Compton 224.

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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