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Shallow Sky In February

Akkana Peck


Planet watchers in February still have Jupiter and Saturn as early evening targets all month. Jupiter is getting low, though ... get your Jupiter watching in now, as it'll be too low by next month to see the finer details! This month, though, observers should still be able to see the many festoons and swirls which have appeared during this apparition of the giant planet.

Some possibly interesting transits (from my applet http://www.shallowsky.com/jupiter.html):

Saturn still presents a showy ring tilt, several gaps in the rings for observers blessed with steady skies (which unfortunately are more difficult to come by during winter months), and lots of subtle shading on its rings.

Mars is still visible in the evening twilight below Jupiter, but won't show much detail in a telescope. During the first half of the month, Mercury joins the evening planet lineup, in the west-northwest and reaching greatest elongation on the 15th, but by late February it will be lost in the sun's glare. Shallow sky observers can watch fast-moving Mercury drop from magnitude -1.1 at the beginning of the month all the way to +4.3 by month's end, and change phase from nearly full to nearly new!

Venus hangs low in the morning twilight sky, showing a small and very bright gibbous phase to a small telescope. On the 2nd, the moon will pass 1.4 degrees north of the planet, which should offer a lovely view for early risers; those of us who don't follow Ben Franklin's advice ("early to bed, early to rise ...") so closely might enjoy the challenge of looking for the crescent moon (3 days before new) during the daytime, then using that to find nearby Venus.

Uranus and Neptune are too close to the sun to be good observing targets this month, though morning observers might want to try for Neptune half a degree north of Venus (so the two should be visible in the same low-power telescope field) on Feb. 22nd, or Uranus just slightly farther from it on March 4.

Asteroid fans might want to try for the eighth-magnitude asteroid 2 Pallas this month, as it passes by M93 during the first few days of February or by M47 and nearby M46 at month's end. The February issue of Sky & Telescope magazine has a finder chart.

Since the ecliptic rises steeply from the horizon this month, Late February is a good time for northern observers to look in the west after dark for the zodiacal light, the faint band of light resulting from the sun's reflection off tiny particles crowding the ecliptic.

Finally, on the third planet out, don't forget the leap day on February 29th! Usually centuries aren't leap years, but every 400 years, we have to add a day to keep up with the earth's orbit.


Mail to: Akkana Peck
Copyright © 2000 San Jose Astronomical Association
Last updated: July 19, 2007

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