Some daily events in the changing sky for February 22 – March 1.
Friday, February 22
Compare also with the pairing of Procyon and Beta Canis Minoris lower down — and the pairing of Sirius and Beta Canis Majoris lower still. With fresh eyes, there's no end to the new sky patterns you may notice.
Saturday, February 23
Sunday, February 24
Monday, February 25
This is the best season of the year for seeing the evening zodiacal light if you're in the Northern Hemisphere — because this is when the ecliptic extends most nearly upright from the western horizon at dusk.
Tuesday, February 26
Wednesday, February 27
Thursday, February 28
Friday, February 29
Saturday, March 1
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 foldout 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 maps; 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 enchanting though increasingly dated Burnham's Celestial Handbook). Read how to use them effectively.
More beginners' tips: "How to Start Right in Astronomy".
This Week's Planet Roundup
Mercury (about magnitude +0.4) is less than 2° or 3° from brilliant Venus very low in the dawn — but it's dozens of times fainter. Binoculars will help.
Venus (magnitude –3.8, in Capricornus) is getting lower every morning. Look for it above the east-southeast horizon about 30 or 40 minutes before sunrise, far lower left of Jupiter.
The European Space Agency's Venus Express craft continues to orbit and study the planet. The ESA has just put out a press release with closeup images and new findings about Venus's "extraordinarily changeable and extremely large-scale weather."
Mars (about magnitude +0.1, in easternmost Taurus) shines very high in the south to southwest during evening, high above Orion. The fairly bright star near it is Beta (β) Tauri, or El Nath, magnitude +1.6 and pale blue-white. In a telescope, Mars dwindles from 9.8 to 9.0 arcseconds in apparent diameter this week.
Jupiter (magnitude –2.0, in Sagittarius) shines low in the southeast before and during dawn. It's moving ever farther to the upper right of Venus.
Saturn (magnitude +0.2, in Leo) is at opposition on the night of February 23rd. It glows low in the east as twilight fades, rises higher all evening, and stands highest in the south around midnight.
Fainter Regulus (magnitude +1.4) is 5° west of Saturn: to its upper right after they rise. Only a little dimmer than Regulus is Gamma (γ) Leonis (magnitude +2.1), located 8° to Regulus's north. The three make an eye-catching triangle. Watch the triangle narrow in the coming weeks!
In a telescope, look for the Seeliger effect, a brightening of Saturn's rings for several days around opposition. The reason for this? The ice particles making up the rings "backscatter" sunlight (reflect it back the way it came) more efficiently than the material in Saturn's cloud tops. When Saturn is at opposition, Earth is in the line of backscattering. A daily series of images will show this particularly well.
Uranus and Neptune are hidden in the glare of the Sun.
Pluto (magnitude 14.0, in Sagittarius) is in the southeast before the first light of dawn.
Comet Holmes continues to grow gradually dimmer. On February 11th through suburban light pollution, Dennis di Cicco could not see it with the naked eye at all when he took the picture at right.
On February 24th, says Tony Flanders, "the comet was barely visible naked-eye from a modestly dark rural site. It was still pretty obvious in 15x70 binoculars, and it looked to me to be about 1° by 3/4°. I could see no sign of internal detail at all." Holmes is now shrinking slightly in apparent size as it moves farther from Earth and, also, as its outermost parts fade to invisibility.
The comet continues moving eastward in Perseus; chart.
All descriptions that relate to your horizon or zenith — including the words up, down, right, and left — are written for the world's midnorthern latitudes. Descriptions that also depend on longitude are for North America. Eastern Standard Time (EST) equals Universal Time (UT, UTC, or GMT) minus 5 hours.
"Rational and innocent entertainment of the highest kind."
— John Mills, 19th century Scottish manufacturer and founder of Mills Observatory, on amateur astronomy.
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