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.

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.

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