February 2019 Sky-Watch

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Looking due south on clear winter nights in February, sky-watchers can find 6 bright constellations and see 8 of the top 20 brightest stars, as seen from Earth. These include the brightest of all, SIRIUS, the “dog” star, in the constellation Canis Major. Also by 9:00 pm local time in mid-February, the first sign of approaching spring is heralded by the appearance of Leo the lion, rising above the eastern horizon.

Start half-way up to the zenith (top of the sky), looking south for the “hour glass” shape of Orion the hunter. Three equally bright stars in a neat line in the center of Orion mark the “belt” around the waist of this mighty hunter. Red giant star BETELGEUSE (upper left corner), and the blue giant star RIGEL (lower right corner), are two of the eight 1st magnitude stars of winter. Orion also boasts 5 bright 2nd magnitude stars, which include the three belt stars.

Moving one’s eyes through the belt stars, down and left, points us to SIRIUS, twinkling near the southern horizon. Using the belt stars of Orion again to point up and to the right brings us to red-orange ALDEBARAN, brightest star in Taurus the bull. The bull’s head is made of stars forming a distinct V-shape in this Zodiac constellation.

Above Sirius, and slightly to its left is Canis Minor, a constellation of only 3 stars, that represents the smaller or Orion’s two hunting dogs. Brightest of the 3 stars is PROCYON. Just above this is the Zodiac constellation GEMINI, the twins. The two stick men formed by Gemini’s stars are headed by two more of winter’s brightest stars, POLLUX and CASTOR.

Above Gemini and nearly at the zenith is Auriga, the goat herder constellation, which has a pentagon shape. The brightest star in Auriga is CAPELLA, a yellow star like our Sun, but much larger.

Leo the lion is also a part of the Zodiac and one of the brightest of the spring constellations, but in February Leo introduces itself as a sure sign that spring is coming by rising above the eastern horizon then. Leo reaches its peak in April and May. The bottom star at the front of Leo is yet another 1st magnitude star to be seen in February it is called REGULUS.

Mars, among the planets, remains easy to see in the evening southern sky, but it fades in magnitude from +0.9 to +1.2 through February. Is continues to move further away from us in its orbit. even telescopes will not bring in much surface detail now because of this distance.

Mercury will give us its best views of 2019 from February 15th to February 26th. On the 15th Mercury, at magnitude –1.1, may be seen left of where the Sun set 30 minutes afterwards. But it will only be 5 degrees above the western horizon then. However, Mercury rises higher each day until by the 26th it will be 18 degrees left of the Sun, which will translate to 11 degrees of altitude, 30 to 45 minutes after sunset.

The pre-dawn eastern sky features 3 planets this month. The first up (around 4:00 am) will be Jupiter (-2.0 magnitude). On the morning of the 27th, the waning crescent Moon will be just 2 degrees above Jupiter. Venus comes up some 30 minutes after Jupiter in the East, and be even brighter at –4.2. Venus will appear in almost the same spot in the sky as Saturn on the morning of the 18th. Venus then will be only one degree above the ringed planet Saturn, which will be at magnitude +0.6. Find a good clear view to the eastern pre-dawn horizon all month to watch all 3 of these planets in the one to two hours before sunup.

Full Moon for February is on February 19th.

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