By Alice Enevoldsen
Special to West Seattle Blog
The night you need to be outside this month is February 20th, so call up Cliff Mass and ask him to arrange for clear weather that evening. Just after sunset we have a conjunction between the Moon, Mars, and Venus that isn’t to be missed, it’ll be stunning.
The next night, February 21st, Venus and Mars will be even closer in the sky. You’ll be able to easily see the pair in binoculars; use that moment to notice the difference in color between the two.
Hey, What’s That?
Unless it was the aforementioned Venus conjunction or Venus itself, which sets in the west shortly after sunset, then you’re definitely seeing Jupiter every night this month.
Jupiter is up all night and high in the sky, strikingly bright. I’ve already caught myself wondering if it’s a planet or an airplane, because of its brightness.
This time of year, there are still a number of us who need to get up before sunrise, and if you’re one of them you have a chance to see Saturn as well, visible in the wee hours of the morning.
Notable in the Sky
We still have Comet C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy (yup, we do need that whole mouthful of a designation because Mr. Lovejoy has discovered five comets) between the constellations of Andromeda and Perseus. It is moving away from both the Earth and the Sun now, so it’ll begin dimming down. Look for it again as we get into darker skies near the new moon. Comets are notably unpredictable, but so far Lovejoy has been brightening and dimming just as expected.
On the subject of comets to remember, the European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft is still in orbit around comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, and will do a very close flyby (less than four miles above the surface) on Valentine’s Day, February 14th. I suspect you’ll hear a bit about it in the news that day or the following week, because this is the mission that made headlines in November when the Philae spacecraft landed on the surface of the comet, and again last month when they released a collection of stunning high-resolution images of the comet’s surface.
What Does Conjunction Mean Anyway?
Conjunctions come up often when talking about exciting events in the sky. After hearing about them often enough, you’ll probably start to wonder exactly what it means to have a conjunction, especially on a month like this one where we have two conjunctions back-to-back: one of Mars-Venus-Moon, and the other just Mars-Venus.
Conjunctions are when things are close together in the sky, and exciting to look at. It is important to note that a conjunction is due entirely to our viewpoint from Earth, the objects are not physically near each other: they simply appear that way to us, standing here on our planet.
A conjunction is usually mentioned only on the date that the two or more objects appear closest to each other in the sky, but depending on how fast each object is moving, they can continue to appear near each other for a day or two around that date as well. When a conjunction involves fast-moving celestial bodies (the Moon, Mercury, and to some extent Venus) those usually only occur on one day. Conjunctions involving farther out (and therefore slower) celestial bodies, like Saturn and Jupiter, last longer.
Saturday, February 14th — Rosetta close approach to Comet 67P
Friday, February 20th, early evening — Moon, Mars, Venus conjunction
Saturday, February 21st, early evening — Mars, Venus conjunction
Did I miss something? Please add it in the comments!
February 11 — Last Quarter: the week around the last quarter moon, it is visible in the early morning sky (rising in the middle of the night, setting in the early afternoon).
February 18 — New Moon: the day of the new moon you won’t see the Moon at all, but a day or so before or after you might see a tiny sliver of a crescent Moon as the Sun rises or sets, and a few more days out you can see the crescent Moon all day long.
February 25 — First Quarter: the first quarter moon is ideal for late afternoon and early evening observation (rising in the early afternoon, setting in the middle of the night).
March 5 — Full Moon: The full moon rises at sunset, sets at sunrise and is visible all
Stellarium: Free planetarium software for your home computer. Bring up the sky for anywhere in the world – any time and date in history, or the future.
Clear Sky Chart: The astronomer’s forecast for the next couple days. Cloud cover, darkness, and “seeing” which is how nice it is to view the stars, all on one handy chart.
USNO: Dates and times of astronomical happenings.
Who is Alice?
Alice is many things and works and volunteers for a few different notable organizations, but the suggestions and opinions put forth in this article are her own and no-one else’s. You can find more about astronomy at www.alicesastroinfo.com.