FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 18

■ On these February evenings Canopus, the second-brightest star after Sirius, lurks either just below or just above your south horizon (for mid-northern latitudes). In one of the many interesting coincidences that devoted skywatchers know about, Canopus lies almost due south of Sirius, by 36°.

That's far enough south that it never appears above your horizon unless you're below latitude 37° N (southern Virginia, southern Missouri, central California). And there you'll need an open, flat south horizon. Canopus crosses due south 21 minutes before Sirius does.

When to look? Right when Beta Canis Majoris — Murzim the Announcer, the star about three finger-widths to the right of Sirius — is at its highest due south over your landscape. That's about 8 or 9 p.m. now, depending on how far east or west you live in your time zone. Drop straight down from Murzim then.

Have you been watching the Venus-Mars-Mercury triangle at dawn? It continues to change and lengthen this week, with Mercury getting a little lower each morning.

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 19

■ Right after night turns completely dark, the W of Cassiopeia shines high in the northwest, standing almost on end.

The brightest star between Cassiopeia and the zenith at that time (for the world's mid-northern latitudes) is Alpha Persei or Mirfak, magnitude 1.8. It lies on the lower-right edge of the Alpha Persei Cluster: a large, elongated, very loose swarm of fainter stars about the size of your thumbtip at arm's length. At least a dozen are 6th magnitude or brighter. They show best in binoculars.

Alpha Per, a white supergiant, is a true member of the group and its brightest light. It and the rest are about 560 light-years away.

SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 20

■ Sirius blazes high in the south on the meridian by about 8 or 9 p.m. now. Using binoculars or a scope at low power, examine the spot 4° south of Sirius (directly below it when on the meridian). Four degrees is somewhat less than the width of a typical binocular's or finderscope's field of view. Can you see a little patch of gray haze, very faintly speckled if your sky is good and dark? That's the open star cluster M41, about 2,200 light-years away. Its total magnitude adds up to 5.0.

Sirius, by comparison, is only 8.6 light-years away — and being so near, it shines some 400 times brighter than the entire cluster.

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 21

■ High in the northern sky these dark evenings, in the seemingly empty wastes between Capella overhead and Polaris due north, sprawls big, dim Camelopardalis, the Giraffe — perhaps the biggest often-visible constellation you don't know. Unless you have a really dark sky, you'll need binoculars to work out its loose, faint, nondescript pattern using the constellation chart in the center of Sky & Telescope — a challenge project that will build your skills for correctly relating what you see in binoculars to what you see, much smaller, on a sky map.

If you're new at this, start with brighter, easier constellations and save the shy Giraffe until you get good at it.

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 22

■ With the Moon gone and Monoceros walking across the south behind Orion as if being led by a rope, now's a fine time to trace out the Unicorn's big, dim stick figure. Use the constellation chart in the center of the February or March Sky & Telescope.

Many binocular starwatchers know about its distinctive star cluster NGC 2244, a boxy, rectangular pattern in the center of the vastly fainter Rosette Nebula. It's right about where the Unicorn's eye might be in his triangular head. The brightest stars of the pattern are 6th and 7th magnitude. Find it 10° to the celestial east-southeast of Betelgeuse. The elongated rectangle currently stands upright.

If you've got big binoculars or a small telescope, try next for the larger but fainter Christmas Tree Cluster, NGC 2264, at 15 Monocerotis: the 5th-magnitude star marking the tip of the Unicorn's horn above the back of its head. The stars outlining the Christmas Tree are 7th and 8th magnitude. The tree currently hangs downward from its base, which is 15 Mon. See Matt Wedel's Binocular Highlight column and map in the February Sky & Telescope, page 43.

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 23

■ Last-quarter Moon (exact 5:32 p.m. EDT). The Moon rises very late tonight, around 2 a.m. depending on your location. It's in Scorpius, and once it's up you'll find orange Antares 3° to its right (for North America). Other stars of Scorpius are to their upper right. By the beginning of dawn, the Moon and stars are higher in the south.

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 24

■ It's late February, so Orion stands at his highest in the south at the end of twilight. Here he looks smaller than you probably remember him appearing early in the winter when he was low. You're seeing the "Moon illusion" effect. Constellations, not just the Moon, look bigger when they're low.

■ Under Orion's feet, and to the right of Sirius now, hides Lepus the Hare. Like Canis Major, this is a constellation with a connect-the-dots that really looks like what it's supposed to be. He's a crouching bunny, with his nose pointing lower right, his faint ears extending up toward Rigel (Orion's brighter foot), and his body bunched to the left. His brightest two stars, 3rd-magnitude Alpha and Beta Leporis, form the back and front of his neck, respectively.

■ And what's under Lepus? Columba the Dove, a modestly dim constellation that doesn't look like a dove any way I can connect the dots. See the constellation chart in the center of the February Sky & Telescope. Its brightest star, Alpha Columbae or Phact, is magnitude 2.6. To find it, draw a line from Rigel through Beta Leporis and extend it the same distance straight on.

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 25

■ After dinnertime at this time of year, five carnivore constellations are rising upright in a ragged row from the northeast to south. They're all presented in profile with their noses pointed up and their feet (if any) to the right. They are Ursa Major the Big Bear in the northeast (with the Big Dipper as its brightest part), Leo the Lion in the east, Hydra the Sea Serpent slithering up the southeast, Canis Minor the Little Dog higher in the south-southeast, and bright Canis Major the Big Dog in the south.

By now the waning Moon has made its way around the sky to Venus and Mars, low at dawn.

■ This is a fine week to look for the zodiacal light if you live in the mid-northern latitudes, now that the evening sky is moonless and the ecliptic is tilting high upward from the western horizon at nightfall. From a clear, clean, dark site, look west at the very end of twilight for a vague but huge, tall pyramid of pearly light. It's rather narrow, tilted to the left, and aligned along the constellations of the zodiac.

What you're seeing is sunlit interplanetary dust orbiting the Sun near the ecliptic plane.

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 26

■ Certain deep-sky objects hold secret surprises within or near them. With the Moon gone and the sky dark, get out your sky atlas and telescope these evenings for a go at Bob King's eight Hidden Gems in Common Deep-Sky Objects now in evening view.

 

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This Week's Planet Roundup

Mercury, Venus, and Mars continue to shine in early dawn, as shown at the top of this page. They're low in the southeast, forming a triangle that lengthens slightly through the week.

Brightest is Venus, dazzling at magnitude –4.8. In a telescope it's a thick crescent; its globe has grown to about one-third sunlit. And Venus is shrinking into the distance, as always when it's waxing.

Mars is only about one three-hundredth as bright, at magnitude +1.3. Look for it 6° to Venus's lower right.

Mercury is much farther to Venus's lower left. Their separation increases from 17° to 20° this week. Mercury remains magnitude 0.0.

Jupiter is on its way out of the evening sky. Early in the week, you might try looking for it just over the west horizon a mere 15 or 20 minutes after sunset. Bring binoculars.

Saturn is hidden deep in the glow of dawn.

Uranus (magnitude 5.8, in Aries) is high in the west right after dark. Finder chart.

Neptune is sinking away into the sunset, following behind Jupiter.


All descriptions that relate to your horizon — including the words up, down, right, and left — are written for the world's mid-northern latitudes. Descriptions and graphics that also depend on longitude (mainly Moon positions) are for North America.

Eastern Standard Time, EST, is Universal Time (also called UT, UTC, GMT, or Z time) minus 5 hours.


Want to become a better astronomer? Learn your way around the constellations. They're the key to locating everything fainter and deeper to hunt with binoculars or a telescope.

This is an outdoor nature hobby. For an easy-to-use constellation guide covering the whole evening sky, use the big monthly map in the center of each issue of Sky & Telescope, the essential magazine of astronomy.

Once you get a telescope, to put it to good use you'll need a detailed, large-scale sky atlas (set of charts). The basic standard is the Pocket Sky Atlas (in either the original or Jumbo Edition), which shows stars to magnitude 7.6.

Pocket Sky Atlas cover, Jumbo edition
The Pocket Sky Atlas plots 30,796 stars to magnitude 7.6, and hundreds of telescopic galaxies, star clusters, and nebulae among them. Shown here is the Jumbo Edition, which is in hard covers and enlarged for easier reading outdoors by red flashlight. Sample charts. More about the current editions.

Next up is the larger and deeper Sky Atlas 2000.0, plotting stars to magnitude 8.5; nearly three times as many. The next up, once you know your way around, are the even larger Interstellarum atlas (stars to magnitude 9.5) or Uranometria 2000.0 (stars to magnitude 9.75). And be sure to read How to Use a Star Chart with a Telescope. (It applies just as much to charts on your phone or tablet as to charts on paper.)

You'll also want a good deep-sky guidebook. A beloved old classic is the three-volume Burnham's Celestial Handbook. An impressive more modern one is the big Night Sky Observer's Guide set (2+ volumes) by Kepple and Sanner.

Can a computerized telescope replace charts? Not for beginners, I don't think, and not on mounts and tripods that are less than top-quality mechanically, meaning heavy and expensive. And as Terence Dickinson and Alan Dyer say in their Backyard Astronomer's Guide, "A full appreciation of the universe cannot come without developing the skills to find things in the sky and understanding how the sky works. This knowledge comes only by spending time under the stars with star maps in hand."


Audio sky tour. Out under the evening sky with your
earbuds in place, listen to Kelly Beatty's monthly
podcast tour of the heavens above. It's free.



"The dangers of not thinking clearly are much greater now than ever before. It's not that there's something new in our way of thinking, it's that credulous and confused thinking can be much more lethal in ways it was never before."
            — Carl Sagan, 1996

"Facts are stubborn things."
            — John Adams, 1770

 

Comments


Image of New Jersey Eclipse Fan

New Jersey Eclipse Fan

February 18, 2022 at 5:08 pm

It's great to kick off another week of star-gazing...and reading posts about it! A peaceful Presidents' Day weekend to everybody stateside...and all around the world, if you get my drift.

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mary beth

February 20, 2022 at 8:42 pm

Hope you are having a good weekend, and peaceful as well! We’ve had a warming trend, it was in the 60s this afternoon and it felt great. Unfortunately it’s cloudy so no probably no stargazing tonight. I bet you’re looking forward to warmer weather up there, although the snow you described last week sounded beautiful!

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Rod

February 19, 2022 at 12:58 pm

I did some solar observing this morning using my 90-mm refractor telescope, now another cold front is passing the area. [Observed 0915-1015 EST/1415-1515 UT. I tested eyepieces TeleVue 40-mm plossl, TeleVue 32-mm plossl, TeleVue 19-mm WF, Celestron 18-mm Ortho, Orion Sirius 25-mm plossl using glass white light solar filter. All worked well but the TeleVue 40-mm plossl and TeleVue 32-mm plossl, provided better eye relief for my eyeglasses and wider field of views using my eyeglasses. I tested the Celestron #12 Yellow filter and Celestron #23A Red filter. Both showed many dirty specks. Need to clean or more likely need to replace these planetary filters (more than 30 years old). According to the scale at spaceweather.com, AR2948 dark core and lighter area looks to be close to Earth size. Due to winds, the telescope view bounced at times while observing. The magnification range 25x to 56x views. Angular resolution 12 arcsecond down to 5.4 arcsecond. The Sun about 0.989 au distance so angular size about 32.34 arcminutes. Earth size ~ 17.8 arcsecond on the Sun. The widest true FOV using the TeleVue 40-mm plossl, ~ 108 arcminutes. Temperature 1C with winds south 18 knots, gusting 23 knots.] Now the winds are shifting and colder air moving in again. Plan to run the wood burning stove tonight, perhaps some more stargazing and tomorrow night as well.

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mary beth

February 20, 2022 at 8:47 pm

Look forward to hearing about new filters if you get them. Your post prompted me to read a little bit about them: the purpose of colors etc. Do you get them at a place like B&H camera, or do you go to a specific telescope shop? We have a telescope shop here called Land Sky & Sea. Lots of very interesting things, I’m very thankful it has stayed open with the advent of online shopping. When I first went in there in the late 90s I recognized the owner as a guy I went to high school with. Nice to see him and unexpected since it was way across town!

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Rod

February 19, 2022 at 9:38 pm

I did get out and enjoy some stargazing this evening. [Observed 1915-2030 EST/0015-0130 UT. Waning gibbous Moonrise 2103 EST/0203 UT. Last Quarter Moon 23-Feb-2022 2232 UT. I viewed open clusters, nebula, and double stars tonight using the 90-mm refractor telescope with TeleVue 14-mm Delos eyepiece. 71x views with a bit more than 1-degree true FOV. In Canis Major, NGC 2362 open cluster provided a lovely view, somewhat spherical shape of fainter stars surrounding the brighter Tau Canis Majoris star. M41 open cluster another great and enjoyable view in Canis Major. In Puppis, M93 an excellent open cluster to view. In Orion, Rigel as a double star excellent and distinct. M42 was spectacular. 4 stars in Trapezium and much nebulosity in a large, arc, other nebulosity visible along with fainter stars in M42. No nebula filters used. In Gemini, Castor as a double star observed tonight and easy to split at 71x. Using my eyes only, I could see M41 in Canis Major and M35 in Gemini. Some stars apparent magnitude 5.5 or so using Stellarium and Starry Night Pro Plus 8 to check limiting magnitude. The telescope vibrated and some views bounced because of winds tonight. Temperature -3C, winds NW at 17 knots, gusting 26 knots while I observed so I did not setup my 10-inch Newtonian reflector telescope. Temperature going down to -8C or -9C. This was no planetarium show but an enjoyable, cold, and windy winter night under the heavens. My wood burning stove is running too

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misha17

February 20, 2022 at 1:50 pm

The moon will occult 2.8 mag Alpha Librae in the pre-dawn sky on Tuesday Feb 22nd for viewers in Central and Western North America (except extreme western Alaska).

For US viewers, the occultation will occur around morning twilight near the Mississippi River, and in dark skies in the Mountain and Pacific States.

IOTA has a map of viewing area and Disappearance/Reappearance times for select major cities
(with Lunar and solar altitudes)

here:
http://www.lunar-occultations.com/iota/bstar/0222zc2118.htm

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misha17

February 20, 2022 at 2:00 pm

"On these February evenings Canopus, the second-brightest star after Sirius, lurks either just below or just above your south horizon

... When to look? Right when Beta Canis Majoris — Murzim the Announcer, the star about three finger-widths to the right of Sirius — is at its highest due south over your landscape. That's about 8 or 9 p.m. now, depending on how far east or west you live in your time zone. Drop straight down from Murzim then."

Here in Los Angeles (CA) Canopus is just above distant trees and power poles at its highest. Viewing from my back porch step, it lines up with a telephone pole when it is due south. I've watching it since late December, and it's neat to watch the line-up occur 4 minutes earlier each night.

Except when the Moon or planets are passing by other bright objects, it's hard to notice celestial motions on a night-to-night basis; this is one of the more easy/obvious ones.

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mary beth

February 20, 2022 at 8:40 pm

Wow that’s very neat, I have a very similar situation at 29.95° latitude in Houston. So it’s a tiny bit higher here, and I look out the front door. Very beautiful to watch and fun to track using my neighbor’s roof peaks. Canopus crosses the Meridian here about 8:40 PM tonight.

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