Astronomy: The Week Ahead – Mon 23 Feb thru Sat 28 Feb


Monday February 23

Today Saturn is at western quadrature. The earth and Saturn are at a 90-degree angle from each other relative to the Sun. Quadrature occurs at 5:38 A.M. PST.

Saturn will culminate (reach its highest point above the horizon) at sunrise today. This means Saturn is visible in the night sky for almost half the dark hours, rising at 01:05 and fading into the sunrise which occurs at 06:47.

As the Earth catches up in our orbit, Saturn will be visible in the night sky during more dark hours.


Tuesday February 24

Crash Test: Have you been watching the Venus and Mars show the last several days? Mars was just above Venus last week, and has now moved below. Which planet is moving faster across our sky?

The two are just under 1 and 1/2 degrees apart from our viewpoint, but separated by 0.815 AU (Astronomical Units) in actual distance. An AU is the measure of the Earth’s average distance from the sun, approximately 93 million miles.


Wednesday February 25

Today’s first quarter Moon is 1 degree north of the giant red star Aldebaran, in Taurus. They form a striking pair set above the giant Orion, and its bright stars Betelgeuse and Rigel. Early in the evening, you can also see Jupiter to the east and the pair of Venus and Mars to the west.

Today also marks Neptune’s conjunction. It is on the opposite side of the sun from the earth.


Thursday February 26

Everyone loves a two-for-one deal, and here’s one to start your day with.

The constellation Hercules is up in the east before sunrise. You can make out its shape above the bright star Vega (in Lyra). It contains two great globular clusters, M13 and M92. They are easy to find in binoculars using the “keystone” shape of Hercules’ body. M13 is 2/3rd along one side of the keystone. Using the other side of the keystone, hop twice that distance to a star, then go about 1/3rd the way back toward the top star in the keystone. Both giant globular clusters are about 25,000 light years distant.


Friday February 27

The summer constellation Scorpius is up nicely in the morning skies. Saturn is in the same field of view as the multiple star Nu Scorpii. Antares burns red as the heart of the scorpion. The stinger is easy to imagine as the stars Shaula and Lesath.

Nearby are the binocular objects M6 and M7, two lovely bright open clusters in the heart of the Milky Way.


Saturday February 28

The Moon now dominates the evening sky, growing in waxing gibbous phase and 82% illuminated tonight. Its brightness will obliterate our view of the winter Milky Way running between Orion and Gemini. Only the brightest stars and Jupiter will be visible in the nearby constellations. Look for Procyon in Canis Minor – it shines at magnitude 0.37. Can you spot it with a bright moon so nearby?

Happy viewing!