Sunday February 26th the new 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. The time for new Moon phase 14:59 UT while the time for the node crossing is 8 hours earlier at 6:40 UT. Given the close times for the two events means that there will be a solar eclipse. However the Moon, because of its elliptical shaped orbit, will be at a further distance from the Earth such that it will appear smaller in diameter than the Sun appears. This means that at mid-eclipse, or totality, the Moon will not completely cover the Sun, instead there will be a ring of sunlight around the Moon. The ring of sunlight is called the annulus and so this is an annular solar eclipse. The eclipse will be visible from parts of southern Argentina and western central Africa.
On my birthday in 1994 I was ‘honored’ to not only have an annular solar eclipse on that day but the eclipse path, the path of annularity, crossed right over where I live southeast of Kansas City Missouri. This animation is of the May 10th annular solar eclipse.
Sunday February 26th the ‘Red Planet’ Mars will be about 0.5o from the outer planet Uranus. Mars has an apparent magnitude of 1.28 while the much larger but considerably more distant Uranus has an apparent magnitude of 5.88. Despite the large difference in magnitudes both planets should be visible as small dot shapes in binoculars and with even more detail through a telescope eyepiece.
Tuesday morning February 21st the 23.5-day old waning crescent Moon will be 4-5o away from the planet Saturn as this graphic shows. With 7×50 binoculars the two should make for a striking pair.
Thursday February 16th the Sun in its apparent eastward motion along the ecliptic, moves out of the constellation Capricornus the Sea Goat and into the constellation of Aquarius the Water Bearer. This is the true or actual position of the Sun as opposed to the pseudoscience of astrology which usually has the astrological Sun one constellation ahead or east from the Astronomical Sun’s position, which will be Saturday February 18th when the sun is not in Pisces according to astrology.
Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.
Saturday February 11th the full Moon will be crossing the plane of the ecliptic moving north relative to the ecliptic. This is known as the ascending node, one of two intersections the Moon’s orbital path has with the ecliptic. The ecliptic is actually the Earth’s orbit and the Moon’s orbit is inclined about 6o from the ecliptic, so there are two node intersections, the ascending and descending nodes.
When a node crossing happens near the time of a full or new Moon there is a chance for an eclipse. The closer the two times are to each other the more centered the Moon will be with respect to the Sun for a total eclipse, or more centered such that the Moon passes through the inner and darker umbral shadow.
That is the situation for this weekend with full Moon at 0:33 UT Saturday January 11th (6:30 pm CST Friday January 10th), and the node crossing at 19:50 UT (1:50 pm CST) Saturday. This time, due to the nearly 20 hour difference the Moon’s orbital path will take it across the Earth’s fainter outer, the penumbra. A penumbral lunar eclipse is not that easily noticeable because the bright reflected light from the Moon is not dimmed that much as the Moon passes through the penumbra.
Click here to go to the Hermit Eclipse web site for more information about this eclipse.
Adding to the viewing there is a good chance Comet 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdusakova, aka the “Green Comet”, will be bright enough to be seen with binoculars over the next several evenings. On the 11th the comet will be at its closest to the Earth and may be brighter than 4th magnitude. Unfortunately the Moon’s reflected light will brighten the sky making it that much more challenging to see the comet. Click here to read an article about the comet at the EarthSky web site.
Does our Moon actually go around the Earth as many graphics show? 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*
Read this very informative article about the Earth-Moon system and their orbital motions, written by Joe Hanson. “Do We Orbit the Moon?”
Over the next several evenings the Moon, as it orbits toward the east and waxes from crescent to first quarter phase will pass by several planets, dwarf planets, and star clusters. On the evening of February 5th the Moon will be close to the reddish star Aldebaran, the ‘eye’ in the face of the angry bull, Taurus. This should make for a nice view with binoculars or low power eyepiece when the Moon will sort of overlay the stars of the open star cluster the Hyades.
These two animated graphics show the sky as viewed from Quito Ecuador at 0o latitude, and my home latitude of approximately 40o North. They show the sky at one day intervals starting with February 1st and ending with February 5th.
Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for monthly observing information, or here to return to bobs-spaces.