March/April 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 6

Sky Events for February 2013

Posted: Friday, February 1st, 2013

by Robert Victor

Several of the sky events this month take place close to the horizon. During my years at Abrams Planetarium at Michigan State University, we were fortunate to have a four-level parking ramp directly behind our building. Serving as our ziggurat, it provided a wonderful panoramic view of the distant western horizon, including downtown Lansing and the Michigan State Capitol Building four miles away. We, and often our public audiences, would climb the stairs (or take the elevator) to the top level to watch for planetary gatherings, the first and last visibility of individual planets during their apparitions, heliacal settings (annual last dates of visibility) of first-magnitude stars, and lunar and solar eclipses. At one time we held the record for the youngest crescent Moon ever, a hairline-thin Moon, age 13 hours 28 minutes after New, seen through binoculars from our parking ramp on May 5, 1989 (reported in the following September’s issue of Sky & Telescope magazine). Our staff led memorable public viewing sessions atop the ramp for the transits of Venus at sunrise on June 8, 2004 and at sunset on June 5, 2012. Students from elementary schools in Palm Springs joined forces with the public at a city park to observe last June’s transit for over four hours until the Sun disappeared below the horizon.

Perhaps you and your students have access to a convenient location for sky watching. Even a ground-level site with good views of the horizon could serve as your ziggurat.

Additional Resources:

First, a selection of horizon events during February and early March 2013:

** Mercury and Mars appear very low in WSW in February at dusk, forming a close twilight-only pair for several evenings around Feb. 8, while bright Jupiter shines high in the southern sky, against the spectacular background of Taurus, the Bull. On Feb. 16, Mercury reaches greatest elongation (angular distance from the Sun, 18° this time), but is still only 9° up in mid-twilight, when the Sun is 9° down, about 40 to 45 minutes after sunset. Fainter Mars will then appear just over 5° below Mercury. Binoculars are recommended, especially for spotting faint Mars. Mercury fades in the next week, equaling Mars by Feb. 23, and fades further and drops from sight within a couple of days later.

A much brighter gathering of planets, a spectacular evening twilight trio of Venus-Jupiter-Mercury fitting within a 5° field May 24-29, will be described and illustrated in the May issue of eCCS.

** Follow the old crescent Moon at dawn during Feb. 7-9, and the young crescent at dusk on Feb. 10-12. Binoculars are recommended — they’ll give you great views of earthshine on the Moon’s dark side, and may be required to see the very thin crescents on Feb. 9 and 10.

** Similarly around the next New Moon of March 11, follow the old crescent at dawn during Mar. 8-10, and the young crescent at dusk during Mar. 12-14. Comet PanSTARRS will appear just 4° to the left of the first lunar crescent at dusk on March 12. This Comet may perform low in W at dusk in the second and third weeks of March. Details below.

Here is a more general listing of sky events, most occurring well up in the sky.

Predawn events in early February. Look one hour before sunrise, unless otherwise specified. Skip to Feb. 10 if you’re not into getting up early for morning skywatching.

Fri Feb 1: Spica upper left of waning gibbous Moon.

Sat Feb 2: Spica to right of Moon; Saturn to Moon’s upper left.

Sun Feb 3: Last Quarter Moon appears half full, and is 90° W of Sun in morning sky. Saturn is to Moon’s upper right.

Mon Feb 4: Antares, heart of Scorpion, is lower left of fat waning crescent Moon. Saturn is to Moon’s upper right.

Tue Feb 5: Antares is to Moon’s lower right.

Wed Feb 6: Antares is to Moon’s upper right.

Thu Feb 7: Follow the Moon until 25 min before sunrise, when the 10 percent crescent will be in the southeast. Then watch for Venus rising in ESE, 24° lower left of the Moon. Practicing locating Venus this morning and Friday morning will help you locate the challenging very old Moon on Saturday morning.

Fri Feb 8, 25 min before sunrise: The 4 percent crescent Moon will be low in ESE, with Venus 12° to its lower left.

Sat Feb 9, 25 min before sunrise:  Bring your binoculars for a view of an exceeding thin crescent Moon, less than one percent illuminated, with Venus just over 5° to lower right of the Moon’s southern cusp (lower point of the crescent). If you spot Venus first, then look to its upper left for the hairline crescent. This is the last pairing of Venus and Moon in the morning sky until Jan. 28 and 29, 2014. Further, the Moon will be only about 17 hours before New as seen from southern California.

Very young Moon at dusk on Sunday, Feb. 10: It is unusual to spot the Moon within 24 hours before or after New. This time, New Moon occurs on Saturday, Feb. 9 at 11:20 p.m. PST, and conditions are favorable for California sky watchers to nab the Moon not just once, but twice within 24 hours of New, once before and once after the Moon’s solar conjunction! February’s New Moon is midway between the solar eclipses of last November and next May, and so this time the Moon is 5° north of the ecliptic, placing it higher in our skies; and the Moon passed perigee on Thursday, Feb. 7 and so moves swiftly through the zone of invisibility surrounding the Sun. Finally, the timing of New Moon near the middle of the night lays the groundwork for observers in the southwestern U.S. to try for the old crescent Moon on Feb. 9 and the young crescent on the evening of the next day, Feb. 10.

If you fail to spot the old crescent on Sat. morning Feb. 9, don’t let that discourage you from trying for the very young crescent at dusk on Sunday, Feb. 10. Conditions will be easier, but binoculars are still recommended: 25 minutes after sunset on Sunday, Californians can catch the thin crescent 18 to 19 hours after New and about 4° above the horizon, about 11° south of due west, and 10° almost directly above the Sun (which will be 6° below the horizon). Especially from southern parts of the state, where the Moon’s azimuth will be north of the Sun’s, experienced observers may notice something “odd” about the orientation of the evening crescent: It will appear tipped slightly to the north (right).

As the Moon sinks toward the horizon that evening and the sky darkens, note Mercury 9° to the Moon’s upper left, and fainter Mars 2° below Mercury.

If you succeed in seeing either the old crescent at dawn on Feb. 9 or the young crescent at dusk on Feb. 10, you have done well. Let us know! If you succeed in seeing both, you will have seen “opposing crescents on consecutive days”, and will join a very select group of observers who have done so.

After Feb. 10, follow the Moon nightly in the evening sky. For the next few evenings, it climbs about 12° higher daily. On Mon. Feb. 11, the easy 4 percent crescent is accompanied by Mercury 7° to lower right, and Mars 2.7° below Mercury. On that evening and the next, the earthshine on the Moon’s dark side shows up best. The view through binoculars and small telescopes is impressive

On Sunday, Feb. 17, the Moon will be just past First Quarter phase, just over half full and high in SSW to SW an hour after sunset. Bright Jupiter will appear within 5° to Moon’s upper left, and the beautiful Pleiades (Seven Sisters) star cluster 5°-6° to Moon’s upper right. Aldebaran, eye of Taurus, is within 6° to Jupiter’s lower left. The fainter stars between that star and Jupiter complete a “V” with Aldebaran, outlining the head of the Bull. The fainter stars of the “V”, but not Aldebaran, are members of the Hyades star cluster. These two clusters, the Moon, and Jupiter, are wonderful fields for exploration with binoculars. As you view this scene, consider that the light photons you receive from the various objects began their journeys at different times: From the Moon, only 1.3 seconds ago; from Jupiter, about 40 minutes ago; from Aldebaran, about 67 years ago; from the Hyades, some 150 years ago. Light from the Pleiades left their stars’ surfaces about 400 years ago, about the time Galileo discovered the four bright satellites of Jupiter you can observe through telescopes, and even binoculars.

When you’re outdoors on the evening of Feb. 17, visualize this: As you look at the Pleiades in the evening sky around this date, you are facing almost exactly opposite to the direction the Earth is moving in its orbit around the Sun. We are leaving Jupiter behind, and are passing between our Sun and the star Regulus, heart of Leo. Find that star low in the eastern sky as dusk deepens. Regulus is visible all night long at this time of year, passing high in the southern sky in the middle of the night, and sinking low in the western sky as dawn brightens.

Just over 3-1/2 hours before your observation on the evening of Feb. 17, the Earth, speeding through space at 30 km/sec (1/10,000 of the speed of light), zipped through a spot just west of the Moon’s current position. (Fortunately, the Moon wasn’t there then!

In three months, around May 20, the Earth will have moved a quarter of the way around the Sun, and the Pleiades cluster will appear on the far side of the Sun, hidden from our view. Aldebaran and the Hyades will be gone also, but Jupiter will still be seen, just below the horns of the Bull.

Evenings during Feb. 17-25, watch the Moon work its way through gibbous phases, from First Quarter to Full. On Feb. 18, the Moon will appear 5° from Aldebaran and 7° E of Jupiter. On Feb. 19, the Moon will appear near the 3rd-mag. star Zeta Tauri, which marks the southern horn of the Bull. On Feb. 20, the Moon will appear in the feet of Gemini, the Twins, and 15° from Betelgeuse, Orion’s reddish shoulder. On Feb. 21, the Moon will be 12°-15° S of Pollux and Castor, the “Twin” stars of Gemini, 4-1/2° apart. On Feb. 24, the nearly full Moon will appear 6° right of Regulus, heart of Leo. Finally, at dusk on Feb. 25, the Moon, just past Full, will appear low in the east at dusk, 13° lower left of Regulus. For the following few evenings, the Moon will rise just over an hour later each night, soon becoming unavailable before traditional bedtimes.

Mornings during Feb. 25-28, you can continue following the Moon by looking an hour before sunrise. On Feb. 25, find the Full Moon low in the west, with Regulus within 7° to its upper right. On Feb. 28, the waning gibbous Moon has Spica, the spike of grain in Virgo’s hand, 11° to its upper left.

For sky events in March 2013, including details on locating the Comet PanSTARRS, click here.

Click here for the latest report on what to expect of Comet PanSTARRS

See also: http://www.aerith.net/comet/catalog/2011L4/2011L4.html.

 

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Written by Robert Victor

Robert Victor

Robert C. Victor was Staff Astronomer at Abrams Planetarium, Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing skywatching opportunities for school children in and around Palm Springs, CA. Robert is a member of CSTA.

One Response

  1. I want a ziggurat!

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