Dance of the Planets

   Over a period of the next two weeks the planets Venus, Uranus, and Mars are all more or less in the same direction, or line of sight as we see them in the evening skies. Not an alignment straight out from the earth, but rather they are arranged along the ecliptic from west to east. From an overhead view you can see that the three planets are at a point along their respective orbital path where they are viewed in the same direction.

   Since the planets are in motion, as also is the Earth, The three planets, Venus, Uranus, and Mars will all come together in conjunctions beginning with a triple conjunction on March 4th when the three will easily fit within the field of view of binoculars as they graphic shows. On that day the ‘gap’ between Venus and Uranus will be 0.09o making this the closest planet-planet conjunction for the year.
Then on March 11th Mars and Uranus will be in a planet-planet conjunction and they will be separated by 0.27o. This will be close enough to fit both within the field of view of a 25mm eyepiece in an 8″ Reflecting telescope.

February 28th to March 15th

February 28th to March 15th at 7:30pm CST and CDT)


   This animated graphic (with greatly exaggerated planet size and separations) is set to 1-day intervals. In addition to the motions of the planets relative to each other the part of the sky where the conjunctions take place is gradually getting closer to the horizon and the Sun. This is a result of the Earth’s orbital motion causing the sky to shift toward the west each day and the Sun’s apparent eastward motion.

   
   
   
   
   
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Caution: Objects viewed with an optical aid are further than they appear.
   Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.

Twins Get Mooned

February 27th, 28th, March 1st

February 27th, 28th, March 1st


   Over the next few evenings the waxing gibbous Moon moves past the Gemini Twins as this animated graphic is showing.

   
   
   
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Caution: Objects viewed with an optical aid are further than they appear.
   Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.

Neptune at Solar conjunction

view-from-earth_neptune-solar-conjunction   Thursday February 26th the outer planet Neptune reaches a point in its orbit where it passes behind the Sun as we view this from Earth. Neptune, and the other outer planets, dwarf planets, or small solar system bodies, all eventually reach this position on the opposite side of the Sun known as solar conjunction.

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Caution: Objects viewed with an optical aid are further than they appear.
Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.

Moon-Aldebaran Conjunction

   Wednesday evening February 25th the first quarter Moon will be within about 1o from Aldebaran, a reddish star with an apparent magnitude of 0.9, in Taurus the Bull. Aldebaran as a reddish appearing star represents the Bull’s ‘angry eye’, which goes along with the head down charging stance toward Orion.

25feb-bino   From parts of the world at high northern latitudes (Alaska, Northwestern Canada, Greenland) Aldebaran will be occulted by the Moon. However for the rest of the world, this will be a close conjunction between the Moon and Aldebaran. Through binoculars the Moon, Aldebaran, and the v-shaped open star cluster, the Hyades, will all fit within the field of view.

   
   
   
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Caution: Objects viewed with an optical aid are further than they appear.
   Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.

The Sisters and the Moon

   Tuesday evening, February 24th the 6-day young waxing crescent Moon will be about 7o from the open star cluster, the Pleiades. This should make for a good view through binoculars as both the Moon and the Pleiades will fit in the same field of view.

   
   
   
[centup]
Caution: Objects viewed with an optical aid are further than they appear.
   Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.

Saturn at West Quadrature

saturn-west-quadrature   Monday February 23rd, the position of the planet Saturn with respect to the Earth and the Sun places this ringed planet at what is called western quadrature. Saturn is at a 90 degree angle from us as this graphic shows. Think third quarter Moon as that is a fair comparison of the relative positions. At this position Saturn leads the Sun across the sky from east to west as the Earth is rotating, meaning that Saturn rises before the Sun and also sets before the Sun.
   Saturn currently is within the constellation of Scorpius the Scorpion as this graphic shows. From the northern hemisphere, looking toward the southern horizon, you can find Saturn above the reddish star Antares. Saturn shines with an apparent magnitude of around 0.5 compared with the 1st magnitude Antares.

Learn a little (or a lot) about Saturn by visiting the Cassini at Saturn mission web site.
Click here to go to the Cassini Mission web site.
Click here to go to the Cassini Mission Flyby web page to see when the next Saturn satellite flyby will be.

   This is a short 5 minute video I made as part of a live musical performance called “Orbit” that I was part of in May 2011. This is a piece from the much longer tour of the solar system performance and video and shows Saturn and some of its moons as viewed from the Cassini spacecraft that month.

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[centup]
Caution: Objects viewed with an optical aid are further than they appear.
   Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.

A Celestial 3fer!

   Saturday February 21st is one of those days (actually nights) when things come together nicely and we have an evening where there will be a trio of celestial events two of which many people will hopefully notice. The very bright Venus will be very close to the much dimmer planet Mars over the western horizon at the time of your local sunset. Up to the left is the waxing crescent Moon and less than 1o from the Moon is the outer planet Uranus.

uranus-occultation   For parts of the world this will be an occultation of Uranus by the Moon. From the U.S.A. the occultation occurs during the late afternoon and so the sky may be too bright to see the occultation. And unfortunately Uranus is at the threshold of what is bright enough to be seen with the naked eye, so Uranus is too dim to be visible without the use of binoculars or telescope.

   Both of these conjunctions should be an interesting sight through binoculars or a telescope eyepiece. In particular the conjunction between Venus and Mars is one that spans several days, with the closest happening on Sunday the 22nd. You can see the two move relative to each other over the course of a few days, as this animated graphic shows. It is set to one frame per day and starts from the 19th and ends on the 25th. This animated graphic also gives an idea of how the two planets, Venus and Mars, would look through binoculars and an 8″ reflecting telescope with a 25 mm eyepiece. With the greater telescope eyepiece magnification Uranus and some of its moons become visible, as will possibly be a gibbous phase shape for Venus, and maybe a snow covered Martian pole.

   The 3rd of the 3fer
feb21-descending-node   Saturday February 21st at 16:06 UT (12:06 pm CST) our Moon will be crossing the plane of the ecliptic moving south. This is known as the descending node, one of two intersections the Moon’s orbital path (dark green line) has with the ecliptic.

   
   
   
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Caution: Objects viewed with an optical aid are further than they appear.
   Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.

Moon, Mars, and Venus

   Friday evening, February 20th, the 2-day young waxing crescent Moon will be within about 2o from Venus and Mars. The Moon shines at an apparent magnitude of nearly -10, Venus has an apparent magnitude of nearly -4, while Mars has an apparent magnitude of around +1.2. The three will all easily fit within the field of view of binoculars.

   
   
   
[centup]
Caution: Objects viewed with an optical aid are further than they appear.
   Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.

February Perigee Moon

19feb-perigee-moon    Our Moon orbits around the Sun with the Earth and from our perspective on the Earth the Moon appears to circle around the Earth, however in reality the Moon orbits the Sun together with the Earth*.
   The 1.02-day old thin waxing crescent Moon reaches perigee this month on Thursday February 19th at 07:24 UT (01:24 am CST). At that time the Moon will more or less be at a distance of 27.9 Earth diameters (356,994 km or 221,826 miles) from the Earth.

Adding to the evening viewing will be the planets Venus and Mars above the southwestern horizon. Friday evening, the 20th, the very thin waxing crescent Moon will be within 1-2o from Venus and Mars. Close enough such that all three will fit within the field of view binoculars.

waxing-crescent-moom   This could be one of those opportunities to see a very young Moon, not a record youngest but nonetheless, worth trying to see. The record for a naked-eye sighting of the youngest waxing crescent Moon is 15 hours and 32 minutes, and with an optical aid 11 hours and 40 minutes.

   On the side, so to speak, use binoculars or a low-power eyepiece and look at the unlit edge and along the cusps to see some of the higher peaks sparkling in sunset while their lower parts are still in shadow. Because of the low angle of the Sun relative to the Moon the higher portions of crater rims and lunar mountains are in sunlight while their respective lower portions are still in shadow. The peaks look like they are not connected to the Moon as you can see in the lower left of this picture of a 2-3 day old waxing crescent Moon.

   
   
   *Click here to read my 2006 Scope on the Sky column “The Real Shape of the Moon’s Orbit”. (PDF)

   
   
   
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Caution: Objects viewed with an optical aid are further than they appear.
   Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.

Sun Not in Pisces

The view from Earth - 18 February.

The view from Earth – 18 February.

  According to the pseudoscience of astrology the Sun enters the constellation of Pisces the Fishes on Wednesday February 18th at 2 pm CST (20 UT). When in fact the actual position of the Sun on Wednesday is within the boundary of the constellation of Aquarius the Water Bearer, as this graphic shows. Actually the Sun had just entered Aquarius 2 days ago.

   Read a little more about how astrology has the Sun incorrectly placed in a previous blog, and in another blog discussing the effects of precession.
   
   
   
Caution: Objects viewed with an optical aid are further than they appear.
   Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.