Friday, February 4
Saturday, February 5
Sunday, February 6
Monday, February 7
Tuesday, February 8
In the same field with M50 is another, the fainter cluster: NGC 2343, a tougher catch at magnitude 6.7. For a finder chart and more about these objects, see Gary Seronik's Binocular Highlight column in the February Sky & Telescope, page 45.
Wednesday, February 9
Thursday, February 10
Friday, February 11
Saturday, February 12
Sky at a Glance is now an iPhone app! Put S&T SkyWeek on your iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch and get the above listings anytime, anywhere — with interactive sky maps! Tap a button to see the scene described, customized for your location worldwide. From there you can scroll the view all around the sky, zoom in or out, change to any time or date, and turn on animation. Now includes This Week's Planet Roundup below.
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 must have a detailed, large-scale sky atlas (set of charts). The standards are the Pocket Sky Atlas, which shows stars to magnitude 7.6; the larger Sky Atlas 2000.0 (stars to magnitude 8.5); and the even larger and deeper Uranometria 2000.0 (stars to magnitude 9.75). And read how to use sky charts effectively.
You'll also want a good deep-sky guidebook, such as Sky Atlas 2000.0 Companion by Strong and Sinnott, or the more detailed and descriptive Night Sky Observer's Guide by Kepple and Sanner, or the classic if dated Burnham's Celestial Handbook.
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."
This Week's Planet Roundup
Mercury, Mars, and Neptune are hidden in the glare of the Sun.
Venus (magnitude –4.3, in Sagittarius) blazes as the "Morning Star" in the southeast before and during dawn. Look also for Antares, 150 times fainter at magnitude +1.1, well to Venus's right or upper right (by 23° to 30° this week).
Jupiter (magnitude –2.2, in Pisces) shines brightly in the southwest as the stars come out. It soon sinks lower, then sets around 9 p.m. Get your telescope on it right at dusk when it's still high. Jupiter has shrunk to only 35 arcseconds wide, but keep watch on Jupiter's South Equatorial Belt re-forming.
Jupiter's Great Red Spot, increasingly hard to see, is near System II longitude 157°. Assuming it stays there, here are all of the Great Red Spot's predicted transit times until Jupiter disappears for the season.
Saturn (magnitude +0.6, in Virgo) rises around 10 p.m., but it's best seen in a telescope at its highest in the south in the early-morning hours (Saturn transits around 4 a.m. local time). Don't confuse Saturn with Spica 8° below it during evening, and lower left of it during the morning hours.
In a telescope, Saturn's new white spot has spread into a light zone far around the planet. Saturn's rings are 10° from edge on, their maximum for this year. And see how many of Saturn's satellites you can identify in your scope using our Saturn's Moons tracker.
Uranus (magnitude 5.9) is about 5° west (lower right) of Jupiter and pulling away from it.
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 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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