Monthly roundup

Monthly [Feb 2017] Observing

 

Moon

The Lunar “X” and “V” are visible at around 19:00 – 21:00 GMT (UT) on Friday 3rd February. With binoculars or telescope look close to the terminator to see these impressive optical effects caused by sunlight reflecting off the rim of craters.

First Quarter:

  4th February 04:19

Full:

11th February 00:33

Last Quarter:

18th February 19:33

New:

26th February 14:58

The Moon

Lunar conjunctions & occultations:

Note: When the Moon is waxing it is visible in the western sky after sunset. When near Full Moon it is visible most of the night. When it is waning, it is visible in the eastern sky before sunrise.

1st February

Waxing Crescent Moon lies close to Mars & Venus

2nd February

Waxing Crescent Moon lies close to Uranus & Ceres

3rd February

Almost First Quarter Moon lies close to Mu Ceti

5th February

Waxing Gibbous Moon lies close to Aldebaran & occults some stars in the Hyades Cluster

7th February

Waxing Gibbous Moon lies close to Alhena (Gamma Geminorum)

10th & 11th Feb

Full Moon lies close to Regulus

14th February

Waning Gibbous Moon lies close to Zaniah (Eta Virginis)

15th & 16th Feb

Waning Gibbous Moon lies close to Jupiter & Spica

19th February

Thick Waning Crescent Moon lies close to Antares

20th February

Waning Crescent Moon lies close to Antares & Saturn

21st February

Waning Crescent Moon lies close to Saturn

22nd & 23rd Feb

Waning Crescent Moon lies close to Pluto

   

28th February

Waxing Crescent Moon lies close to Venus



Planetary Observations:

Mercury – is not observable this month.

Venus – unmistakable in the west after sunset, Venus blazes at mag -4.5 this month, setting around 4 hours after the Sun. With a telescope you will see its phase shrinking into a slim crescent. Mars lies to the upper left of Venus during February.

Mars – also visible in the west after sunset, look for Mars. Located in Pisces, it sets at around 9:30pm. At mag +1.2 it is much fainter as its companion Venus, but its red colour is obvious. On 26th February, Mars lies just half a degree to the left of Uranus.

Jupiter – now rising at around 10:30pm, you can’t miss Jupiter shining brightly at mag -2.1 in Virgo, with Spica to the lower right. Now that Jupiter is well placed, keep an eye out for the many occultations and shadow transits of its 4 Galilean Moons. Full details of these can be found in the February Astronomy Now or Sky at Night Magazine, or you can download a smartphone app such as Jupiter’s Moons which show you their exact positions.

Saturn – located in Ophiuchus, mag +0.6 Saturn rises in the east at around 4am.

Neptune – is not observable this month.

Uranus – located in Pisces and setting around 10pm, Uranus is in the western sky after sunset. At mag +5.9 you will probably need binoculars to spot it. On 26th February, Uranus lies just half a degree to the left of Mars.

Pluto – located in Sagittarius, Pluto is not observable at the beginning of February. By the last week of the month it will be rising soon after 5am so you may catch a glimpse of it very low to the south eastern horizon. On 22nd & 23rd February, Pluto lies close to the Waning Crescent Moon. At mag +14 you will definitely need a moderate telescope to spot it.

Ceres – located in Cetus, Ceres becomes visible in the south west after sunset and sets at around 10:30pm. At mag +8.3 you will need binoculars to spot it. On 18th & 19th February, it is in very close conjunction with Epsilon 1 Ceti. 

Vesta – located in Gemini, Vesta becomes visible high in the south after sunset and remains visible all night long. At mag +6.4 you will binoculars to spot it.

 

Other Observations:

Penumbral Lunar Eclipse – overnight on 10th/11th February the Moon passes through the penumbral shadow of the Earth. The Moon enters the shadow at 22:34 UT on 10th February, reaches greatest eclipse at 00:45 UT on 11th February, when the Moon’s northern region will appear darker than the southern region. The Moon leaves the shadow completely at 02:53 UT. 0%" .

Binocular Tour – This month’s Sky at Night Binocular Tour by Stephen Tonkin is focused on the sky around Gemini and Monoceros. There are 5 targets for 10 x 50 binoculars. Firstly, see if you can spot Vesta, which at the beginning of February lies very close to Kappa Geminorum. Next is a Cepheid Variable star, Mekbuda (Kappa Geminorum) which varies in magnitude from +3.6 to +4.2 over a period of 10.15 days. Next is M35, an open cluster. 10 x 50 binoculars should reveal around 10 stars. Although it’s now February, see if you can spot NGC 2264 the Christmas Tree Cluster which surrounds S Monocerotis. The final 10 x 50 target is NGC 2244, a cluster of around 12 stars. If you have 15 x 70 binoculars, look for the lovely cluster NGC 2169. If you have your binoculars perfectly focused, you should see some of the stars trace out the shape of the number “37”. For full details on how to find these objects, look at the February edition of Sky at Night Magazine.

Deep Sky Tour – This month’s Sky at Night Deep Sky Tour is centred on the area around Lepus & Monoceros. If you have a small telescope, look for R Leporis, which is one of the reddest stars in the whole sky. It is a variable star with a magnitude that changes from +5.5 to +11.7 over a period of 430 days. If you have a larger telescope, there are 5 more targets. First is IC 2118 the Witch Head Nebula. It has a low surface brightness so a dark sky with good transparency is needed to observe this nebula. Next look for the planetary nebula IC 418 in Lepus. Its central star is mag +10.2 and has a blue colour when viewed through a large telescope. Another planetary nebula is Abell 7. This has a low surface brightness and is best viewed through larger telescopes. An OIII filter and averted vision will help. One more planetary nebula is IC 2165. This is the smallest of the 3 planetary nebulae and with a small telescope will look just like a star. Larger telescopes will resolve a brighter core with a dimmer shell. The final object is on the border of Canis Major, the open cluster NGC 2204. It is made up of mainly faint stars with a couple of brighter ones. A 12” telescope will resolve around 50 stars which look like a hazy patch with smaller telescopes. For full details of where to find these objects and how best to see them, pick up the February issue of Sky at Night magazine.

M78 (NGC 2068) – Astronomy Now’s object of the month is M78, a reflection nebula located in Orion. Reflection nebulae glow by reflected light from nearby hot, blue stars and M78 is the brightest reflection nebula in the sky. With binoculars, it is a small fuzzy patch. Through a telescope it has the appearance of a comet, but it really stands out through larger telescopes. It is best observed from a dark sky site and when the Moon is out of the way. A UHC filter may assist. The best imaging results will be obtained by LRGB imaging with either CCD or DSLR cameras. For more information on how to observe, image or sketch this object, take a look at the February edition of Astronomy Now magazine.

Constellation Lynx – Astronomy Now’s constellation of the month is Lynx. Although located in an uninspiring patch of sky, there is a lot to see if you explore this area with a telescope. Firstly, look for the NGC 2419, a mag +10.3 globular cluster. You will need a telescope of 8” or more to get a really good view of it. It is located an enormous distance away; some 300,000 light years away in fact! Lynx is home to several galaxies of moderate magnitude. First is NGC 2683, a mag +10.6 edge-on spiral galaxy which is often nicknamed the “UFO Galaxy”. More challenging is the mag +11.6 barred spiral galaxy NGC 2782. Even more challenging is the mag +12.8 tiny lenticular galaxy NGC 2332. If you can locate the elliptical galaxy NGC 2340, you will notice it contains a group of galaxies which is almost entirely made up of lenticular and ellipticals. Moving away from galaxies, look for an unusual planetary nebula Jones-Emberson 1. A very large telescope is needed to pull out detail of this planetary which has an unusual morphology. Lynx is also home to several double and triple stars, as well as some interesting variable stars. For more information about this constellation and all of its treasures, take a look at the February edition of Astronomy Now magazine.

International Space Station – There are a series of evening ISS passes during the first half of February, some of them will be nice and bright. For the exact timings of the passes from your location, visit www.heavens-above.com. You can also check the Iridium flare times for your location at Heavens Above

Comets Visible This Month:

Comet 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Padjusakova – starting the month in Aquila, it charges through Ophiuchus, Hercules, Corona Borealis, Bootes, Coma Berenices throughout February. At the beginning of the month it rises at around 4am, but by the end of the month it will be visible straight after sunset. It magnitude is predicted to reach its peak around 9th February when it will be at mag +7.8. On 19th February it lies just 1 degree from the Whale Galaxy. Click here to view the finder chart: http://bit.ly/2jPLH2j 

Comet C/2015 ER61 (PanSTARRS) – moving from Scorpius into Ophiuchus, it rises at around 4am and remains visible very low in the south east until dawn. It is currently mag +8.5 and brightening. On 22nd & 23rd February it is located very close to Saturn. Click here to view the finder chart: http://bit.ly/2kL122C 

Comet 2P/Encke – located in Pisces, this comet becomes visible about 28 degrees above the south western horizon after sunset to the lower right of Venus, and remains visible until it sets at around 9:30pm. It is currently at mag +8.6 and brightening. Click here to view the finder chart: http://bit.ly/2kbWDWp 

Comet C/2015 V2 Johnson – currently located in Bootes and heading towards Hercules, this comet becomes visible soon after 11:40pm in the north eastern sky, then remains visible until dawn. It is currently at mag +9.4 and brightening. Click here to view the finder chart: http://bit.ly/2kcgAN3 

There are several other comets in the mag +11 to +15 range. Details of these can be found in the links below.

For up to date information about the fainter comets which are visible, please visit: https://in-the-sky.org/data/comets.php, the BAA Comets Section: https://www.ast.cam.ac.uk/~jds/ or Seiichi Yoshida’s home page: http://www.aerith.net/index.html 



NB: All of the information in this sky guide is taken from Night Scenes 2017 by Paul L Money, Philips Stargazing 2017 by Heather Couper and Nigel Henbest, Astronomy Now Magazine, Sky at Night Magazine, Stellarium, the BAA Comets Section website https://www.ast.cam.ac.uk/~jds/, www.inthesky.org and www.heavens-above.com  

Information collated by Mary McIntyre. For regular updates about the events happening in the sky this month, follow the Nightscenes Monthly Night Sky Facebook page at www.facebook.com/AstrospacePublications