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Sky Report - February 2013

February 10th is Chinese New Year, Venus lost in dawn glare, Mercury seen in Western Dusk    

Chinese New Year falls on the second new moon after the start of winter. The new moon occurs where the moon nearly passes between the Earth and the sun.   The moon’s cycle of phases takes 29.5 days. If we have a new moon just after the start of winter, December 21st, then Chinese New Year can be as early as January 20th. But if a new moon happens just before the start of winter, say on December 20th, then the first new moon will fall on January 18th. The next full moon would occur about February 17th. This year, Chinese New Year will occur on February 10th. Each year is dominated by one of twelve animals. This year is the Year of the Snake 2012 had the Dragon. This next animals are the Horse for 2014, the Sheep for 2015 and the Monkey for 2016.
The Chinese felt that people born in the year of a certain animal would have personal characteristics related to that animal. Some animals complement each other so men and women born in those animal years would be well suited for marriage.  

In February, the planet Venus is rising just before the sun and lost in the sun’s glare. Venus is now on the far side of its orbit and nearly behind the sun. We won’t be able to easily spot Venus until May when Venus will be seen low in the western dusk. The ancient Maya regarded Venus as the God of War. They kept very accurate records of their sightings of Venus. When Venus passes behind the sun, it is out of view for several months. But when Venus passes in between the Earth and the sun, we lose sight of it for only about ten days. The Maya knew that there were five Venus cycles in eight years,  there being  584 days in the Venus cycle. For about 9 months, Venus is seen in the morning sky. Then after Venus swings by the sun, Venus will be seen for about 9 months in the evening sky.

While Venus is hiding in the sun’s glare this month, the inner most planet Mercury pops into view in the western dusk. In early February, Mercury sets about an hour after the sun. In mid February, Mercury reaches its greatest height in the southwestern dusk, setting 90 minutes after the sun. The best time to view Mercury in mid February will be about 45 minutes after sunset, about 6:30 p.m. On February 11th, a narrow crescent moon will appear above and to the right of Mercury. If you don’t see Mercury due to cloudiness or bitterly cold weather, Mercury will again be visible in the western dusk in early June. Mercury orbits the sun every 88 days so this sunbaked world offers  4 or 5 good opportunities, lasting two or more weeks to view it during a calendar year.

Early February Sights – The moon is then in the morning sky. Each morning the moon appears slimmer as we view more of the moon’s night side. On February 3rd, the moon appears half full in the southern dawn sky, resembling a backwards ‘D’. Along the moon’s right edge, the sun is setting; its mountains and crater rims then cast long shadows. Your last morning to see the slender crescent moon will be Friday, February 8th.

Mid February Sights – The evening moon returns to the western dusk on February 11th. By the evening of February 17th, the evening moon will be half full (like a ‘tilted letter ‘D’), offering good views of the lunar craters and mountains through low powered telescopes. To the left of the moon on the 17th is the bright planet Jupiter.  On the evening of February 19th, the moon appears above the star group Orion.  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 Big Dipper is well up in the North Northeast with its two top stars pointing left and down to the North Star.

Late February Sights – The evening moon is full on the evening of February 25th, appearing in the star group Leo. The Big Dipper is prominent in the evening sky with its bowl on top and handle underneath. The two leftmost stars of the Big Dipper point down and left to the North Star, a modest star halfway up in the North. The Earth’s North Pole points to the North Star, causing the heavens to appear to rotate about this ordinary looking star. The North Star is the end star of the Little Dipper’s handle. The Little Dipper’s scoop is underneath the Big Dipper’s scoop as if to catch some falling soup.

Our February Science talks will resume at 4 p.m. in the Compton Science Discovery Center each Sunday.   Our feature will be "Bears Around the World". Our main feature will cover the main species of bears, from  arctic to tropical. The program will end with out viewing our splendid bears in the Science Discovery Center.

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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