Some daily events in the changing sky for February 27 – March 7.
Comet Lulin is starting to fade is it moves away from both Earth and Sun. And moonlight begins returning around February 28th. Use binoculars or, preferably, a telescope. See our article and, after March 1st, this detailed chart.
On February 25th the comet went through opposition, nearly 180° from the Sun in our sky. That meant that its dim gas tail (which always points away from the Sun) appeared to switch sides and should now be aligned more or less with the brighter dust tail, formerly called the antitail.
Friday, February 27
Even in broad daylight this afternoon, the Moon provides an easy landmark for spotting Venus through a bright blue sky. They're only 2° apart in late afternoon as seen from North America, with Venus to the Moon's upper right. (See the hour-by-hour illustration in the February Sky & Telescope, page 47.) If you haven't seen Venus in daytime before, you may be surprised at how easy it is.
Saturday, February 28
Sunday, March 1
Monday, March 2
Tuesday, March 3
Wednesday, March 4
Thursday, March 5
Friday, March 6
Saturday, March 7
Want to become a better amateur astronomer? Learn your way around the constellations. They're the key to locating everything fainter and deeper to hunt with binoculars or a telescope. For an easy-to-use constellation guide covering the whole evening sky, use the big monthly map in each issue of Sky & Telescope, the essential magazine of astronomy. Or download our free Getting Started in Astronomy booklet (which only has bimonthly maps).
Once you get a telescope, to put it to good use you'll need a detailed, large-scale sky atlas (set of charts; the standards are Sky Atlas 2000.0 or the smaller Pocket Sky Atlas) and good deep-sky guidebooks (such as Sky Atlas 2000.0 Companion by Strong and Sinnott, the even more detailed Night Sky Observer's Guide by Kepple and Sanner, or the classic Burnham's Celestial Handbook). Read how to use them effectively.
Can a computerized telescope take their place? 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 and a curious mind." Without these, they note, "the sky never becomes a friendly place."
More beginners' tips: "How to Start Right in Astronomy".
This Week's Planet Roundup
Jupiter, Mercury, and Mars (magnitudes –2.0, –0.2, and +1.2, respectively) are very low in the glow of sunrise, where they're changing configuration daily. See the March 1 sky scene above. Start by spotting Jupiter above the east-southeast horizon 30 or 40 minutes before sunrise. Fainter Mercury, and much fainter Mars, are down to Jupiter's lower left. Use binoculars.
You can find your local sunrise time by making sure you've put your location into our online almanac. Make sure the Daylight Saving Time box is unchecked if you're still on standard time.
Venus (magnitude –4.8, in central Pisces) is the dazzling "Evening Star" in the west during and after twilight. It's getting lower now and sets around 8:30 p.m. In the next three weeks it will plunge down away into the sunset. In a telescope, Venus is a rapidly waning crescent (waning from 20% to 13% sunlit this week). It enlarges this week from 44 to 50 arcseconds from cusp to cusp. Telescopically, Venus is best seen in bright twilight or even broad daylight; it's less glary against a bright sky, and it's higher.
Ceres (magnitude 6.9 or 7.0, above the back of Leo) is having its closest apparition of our lifetime. This "dwarf planet," the largest of the main-belt asteroids, was at opposition on February 25th. See the article and finder chart in the March Sky & Telescope, page 60, or online.
Ceres, with a diameter of 950 kilometers (590 miles), is estimated to contain a third of the mass of the asteroid belt — even though the main belt is thought to contain a million objects larger than 1 kilometer across.
Saturn (magnitude +0.5, near the hind foot of Leo) will come to opposition on March 8th. It rises in twilight this week, shines well up in the east by 9 p.m., and is highest in the south around midnight. Don't confuse Saturn with similarly-bright Regulus 20° (two fist-widths at arm's length) to its upper right in early and mid-evening, and more directly to its right late at night.
Saturn's rings are 2° from edge on. The rings will open to 4° by late May, then will close to exactly edge-on next September 4th — when, unfortunately, Saturn will be out of sight practically in conjunction with the Sun.
Uranus is hidden behind the glow of the Sun.
Neptune, deep in the glow of sunrise, is hidden in the background of Mercury and Mars.
Pluto (in northwestern Sagittarius) is in the southeast before dawn.
All descriptions that relate to your horizon or zenith — including the words up, down, right, and left — are written for the world's mid-northern latitudes. Descriptions that also depend on longitude (mainly Moon positions) are for North America. Eastern Standard Time (EST) equals Universal Time (known as UT, UTC, or GMT) minus 5 hours.
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