Mars and the 7 Sisters

   The planet Mars has been steadily orbiting eastward and is currently moving past the open star cluster the Pleiades. On Wednesday evening March 3rd Mars will be at its closest to the Pleiades coming within about 3-4o from the open star cluster as it passes by.

   Use binoculars or a low-power telescope eyepiece to view Mars and the Pleiades.
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   

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.

Moon Meets the Twins


   Tuesday evening February 23rd the 12-day old waxing gibbous Moon will be about 2o from Pollux, one of the two ‘Twin’ stars of the constellation Gemini the Twins. The other brother is Castor, which is about 6o away from the Moon.

   
   
   

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.

February Moon at Ascending Node

   Saturday February 20th the 9-day old waxing gibbous Moon will be crossing the plane of the ecliptic moving north. 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.

   On the day of the node crossing the 9-day old waxing gibbous Moon will be over the southwestern horizon later during the evening after sunset local time. Watch for the Moon to be about 8o from the reddish star Aldebaran in the open star cluster the Hyades in Taurus the Bull.

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

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.

February Moon at Apogee

   Our Moon reaches apogee, (furthest from Earth), for this orbit, on Thursday February 18th. For this apogee the 7.25-day old waxing crescent Moon will be at a distance of 31.70 Earth diameters, 251,282 miles (404,400 km) from the Earth.

   On the date of the apogee Moon the nearly first quarter Moon will be high above the southern horizon and will be within a few degrees from the planet Mars.


   Does our Moon actually go around the Earth as this graphic shows? 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*
   *Click here to read my Scope on the Sky column “The Real Shape of the Moon’s Orbit”. (PDF)

   
   
   
   

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for monthly observing information, or here to go to bobs-spaces.


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The Moon, Mars, and NASA’s Perseverance

   Thursday evening February 18th the 7-day old almost first quarter but still waxing crescent Moon will be about 3o from the ‘Red Planet’ Mars. Despite the -11.75 apparent magnitude of the Moon Mars, with an apparent magnitude of 0.75, will still be visible.

   
   NASA Perseverance is scheduled to land on Mars on 18 February 2021, at around 20 UT or 2 pm CST.

   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   

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.


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Moon – Uranus Conjunction

   Wednesday evening February 17th the 6-day old waxing crescent Moon will be about 3-4o from the outer and ringed Planet Uranus. While the Moon with an apparent magnitude of -11.5 will certainly be visible, Uranus with an apparent magnitude of 5.81 will not!

   
   
   

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.


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Crescent Moon – Neptune Conjunction

   Saturday February 13th the 2-day old thin waxing crescent Moon will be about 2-3o from the outer planet Neptune and about 6-7o to the west from Dwarf Planet Ceres. The Moon will pass by Ceres over the next 24 hours and by about this time tomorrow the Moon will be to the east from Ceres.
   I should point out that Ceres with an apparent magnitude between 8th and 9th and Neptune with an apparent magnitude between 7th and 8th neither will be visible to the unaided eye.
   However when you are looking toward the Moon you will be looking in the direction of these two distant members of our solar system. This graphic shows the position of the Earth, our Moon, Ceres, and Neptune on February 13th. From this perspective objects to the left of the Sun will be seen in the evening skies as the Earth rotates.

   
   
   

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.


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Springtime on Mars!

A Martian Year

A Martian Year – at One Earth Month Intervals

   Four days ago, February 2nd, we ‘celebrated'(?) Groundhog Day where in the Northern Hemisphere if the groundhog sees its shadow there will be 6 more weeks of winter. Coincidentally on Saturday February 6th it is the spring equinox on the planet Mars as the planet transitions from its winter season to spring during its 684 Earth day orbit around the Sun. However there are no groundhogs on Mars! So there may be clear skies but given daily temperatures on the Martian surface to me it looks like spring time all the time, albeit rather cool!
   Seasons on Mars are marked by the planet’s heliocentric longitude coordinates using the position of Mars along its orbit around the Sun. Each seasonal start/ending point is 90 degrees apart, but because of its elliptical-shaped orbit each Martian season is of varying lengths.

   I’m not exactly sure why this particular date is used but by international agreement astronomers have selected April 11th, 1955 as 0 degrees for year 1 of this Martian calendar. What this works out to is that on Saturday February 6th, Earth time, it is the start of spring for year 36 using the aforementioned calendar system.

Year 35
0 degrees — Spring Equinox — March 23 2019
90 degrees — Summer solstice — October 08 2019
180 degrees — Fall Equinox — April 08 2020
270 degrees — Winter Solstice — September 02 2020

Year 36
0 degrees — Spring Equinox — February 06 2021
90 degrees — Summer solstice — August 25 2021
180 degrees — Fall Equinox — February 24 2022
270 degrees — Winter Solstice — July 21 2022

Learn a little (or a lot) more about the exploration of Mars at the NASA Explore the Moon to Mars website.

   
   
   

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.


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Mars at Eastern Quadrature

orbital-positions   Monday February 1st the position of the planet Mars, with respect to the Earth and the Sun, places this planet at what is called eastern quadrature. At that orbital position Mars, and actually any outer planet, is at a 90 degree angle from the Earth as this graphic shows, and the banner graphic at the top of the page shows. Think first quarter Moon as that is a fair comparison of the relative positions of Earth, Sun, and Mars.

   At this position Mars follows the Sun across the sky from east to west as the Earth is rotating, meaning that Mars rises after the Sun and then sets after the Sun. Mars, with an apparent magnitude of 0.45, is about 5o from the 5.8 magnitude Uranus.

   
   
   

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.


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Leo, the Moon, Mars, Mercury, and a Ram

   No, that is not the opening line to a “walked into a bar…” joke, but rather an example of trying to fit 4 different topics into one title!
Read on.

   Friday evening January 29th the 17-day old waning gibbous Moon will be about 4-5o from the star Regulus. This star is known as the ‘Heart’ of the constellation Leo the Lion.

   Mars is visible further west over the southwest horizon and is a few degrees from the planet Uranus. Both are near the 3-star pattern for the constellation Aries the Ram and its brightest star Hamal with a 2.0 apparent magnitude. The two planets have a sharp contrast in relative apparent magnitude with Hamal and with each other – Mars at 0.40 and Uranus at a 5.80 apparent magnitude. Both planets will fit within the field of view of binoculars with Mars appearing as a small reddish ‘dot’ and Uranus, if seen at all, a much fainter bluish-green and smaller ‘dot’.

   Earlier in the evening, after sunset, look toward the western horizon for the innermost planet Mercury. With an apparent magnitude of 0.45 Mercury is slightly dimmer than Mars and should be easy to spot as it will be the brightest star-like object in that direction.

   
   
   

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.


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