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Monthly Sky Report - February 2007

Getting Directions
To find the planets, bright stars and groups, you need to know the compass directions where you watch the sky. Lacking a compass, you can use the sun at the start, middle and end of the day. As you face the rising sun - it will be rising slightly south of East. In mid day (around noon), look at your shadow which then points North. The sun will set slightly south of West.

All Through February
During February, there is an average of 10.7 hours of sunlight each day. During February, the sunsets slide forward from 5:34 p.m. to 6:06 p.m. Sunrises drop back from 7:24 a.m. early in the month to 6:50 a.m. at month's end. Stars begin to fade away an hour before sunrise and the star groups come into view an hour after sunset. In the early evening, there are three very bright stars visible, sparkling Sirius, low in the southeast and white-blue Rigel in the South and golden Capella nearly overhead. But the grandest sight is the brilliant planet Venus in the southwestern evening at dusk. The other evening planet is Saturn, seen low in the East as darkness falls. The two planets can be distinguished from the bright stars by their steady light. In the southern evening sky is the bright star group Orion, shaped like an hour glass with two bright stars on top, three stars in the middle and two bright stars on the bottom. Orion's middle stars point down and left to Sirius, the night's brightest star. Orion's middle stars point up and right to the orange star Aldebaran and the Pleiades or 7 Sisters star cluster. The Big Dipper is in the North Northeast with its two top scoop stars pointing left to the North Star.

Sights for Early February 2007
The evening moon is full on February 1st, appearing in the dim star group Cancer. The next night, the moon appears close to the planet Saturn in Leo. On February 10th, the planet Saturn is brightest and closest to the Earth for 2007, being about 800 million miles away (1.2 light hours). On that night, Saturn rises at sunset, is highest in the South at midnight and sets as the sun rises. In early February, the planet Mercury can be seen below and to the right of the brilliant planet Venus in the southwestern dusk. Look for both planets about 6:15 p.m. from a place with a flat western horizon.

Sights for Mid February 2007
In mid February, the moon rises after midnight and is best viewed at dawn. The early evening will then be great for viewing the bright winter stars, then in the Southeast and South. On February 12th, the crescent moon appears near the bright planet Jupiter in the southeastern dawn. On February 19th, the crescent moon appears near the brilliant planet Venus in the southwestern dusk.

Sights for Late February 2007
On February 23rd the evening moon appears half full, passing close to the Pleiades or 7 Sisters star cluster. This moon shape offers the best views of our moon's craters and mountain peaks with binoculars. On February 27th, the moon appears close to the stars Pollux and Castor, the brightest stars of Gemini.

Astronomy Activities
Our free public February Planetarium presentation is "Calendars & Why February Got Shortchanged", shown each February Sunday at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. The Planetarium is in Tawes 302, near the middle of the Frostburg State campus.









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