Some daily events in the changing sky for February 19 – 27.
Friday, February 19
Saturday, February 20
Sunday, February 21
Monday, February 22
Tuesday, February 23
Wednesday, February 24
Thursday, February 25
Friday, February 26
Saturday, February 27
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 the center of 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 more detailed and descriptive 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? I don't think so — not for beginners, anyway (and especially not on mounts that are less than top-quality mechanically). 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, "the sky never becomes a friendly place."
More beginners' tips: "How to Start Right in Astronomy".
This Week's Planet Roundup
Mercury is lost in the glow of sunrise.
Venus (magnitude –3.9) is barely emerging from deep in the sunset. Look for it just above the west-southwest horizon about 20 minutes after sundown. Binoculars help.
Mars, still bright at magnitude –0.8, shines high in the east at dusk and is highest in the south around 10 p.m. It's in Cancer, below Pollux and Castor after dark.
In a telescope Mars is shrinking: from 13.0 to 12.4 arcseconds wide this week. Its north polar cap is again bright, but watch for it shrinking in the Martian northern-hemisphere spring during the coming weeks. Identify other surface features you see using the Mars map and observing guide in the December Sky & Telescope, page 57.
Jupiter is hidden behind the glare of the Sun.
Saturn (magnitude +0.6, in western Virgo) rises in the east around 8 p.m. and stands highest in the south around 1 or 2 a.m. In a telescope, Saturn's rings are tilted only 4.1° from edge-on to us, and they'll narrow further in the coming months.
Uranus and Neptune are behind the glare of the Sun.
Pluto is low 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 (also known as UT, UTC, or GMT) minus 5 hours.
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