Sky Watch: February 2014

Our galaxy, the Milky Way. Credit: NASA

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Here are the monthly sky watch highlights. Each month, we share the wonders of the universe to help you explore the night sky from your own backyard. (Note: Times listed below are ET.)

February 2014

by Bob Berman, as featured in
The Old Farmer's Almanac

On the 1st in evening twilight, a skinny crescent Moon hovers above low Mercury, which at a bright magnitude –0.5 can be glimpsed the next night as well.

At midmonth, Venus, in Sagittarius, attains its greatest brilliancy of the year, at a shadow-casting –4.9 magnitude in the eastern morning twilight. Mars brightens greatly to magnitude 0 as Earth approaches it.

The Moon floats below Jupiter on the 10th and then helps to create a wonderful conjunction on the 19th, when it stands to the upper right of blue star Spica and orange Mars.

The Moon dangles below Saturn on the 22nd, when the pair rises at around 1:00 A.M.; the Ringed World now appears high in the south, just as morning twilight begins.

February Sky Map

Astronomer Jeff DeTray has created the sky map below to help you navigate the November sky.
Visit Jeff's site at AstronomyBoy.com

This month's highlight: The Hunters and the Hunted.

Orion the Hunter is considered to be the most easily recognizable constellation in the sky. February evenings are the best time of year to see that Orion is surrounded on all sides by animals of many kinds. For those of us in the northern hemisphere that means bundle up to stay warm!

Looking due south on February evenings, you'll find the Orion standing tall and bright. In fact, Orion is the brightest constellation that is visible from the northern hemisphere, with seven stars of magnitude 2 or brighter. Two of Orions stars, Betelgeuse and Rigel, are among the top ten brightest stars in the sky. If you compare this month's sky map to the actual sky you will soon learn to spot Orion at a glance. Three bright stars form Orion's belt. Four more—Betegeuse, Bellatrix, Rigel, and Saiph—mark his two shoulders and his two knees. To the right, the dimmer stars of one arm hold forth a shield. High above his head, Orion wields a club for dispatching his prey.

With Orion clearly in sight, you are ready to search out the wildlife in his vicinity.

Every hunter needs companions, and Orion is accompanied by two of man's best friends, Canis Major and Canis Minor. These are the Greater and Lesser Dogs, assisting Orion in his search for prey. Each of the dogs is home to a very bright star, Sirius in Canis Major, and Procyon in Canis Minor.

Located above Orion's shield is Taurus the Bull. The bright star Aldebaran marks one of the Bull's eyes, glaring down at Orion. It appears that Orion is about to strike Taurus with his upraised club. Compare the color of Aldebaran to that of Betelgeuse and Rigel. Both Aldebaran and Betelgeuse have a faint orangish hue, while Rigel is bright white. Star colors are very subtle, so don't expect the color differences to be blindingly obvious.

Beneath Orion's feet is Lepus the Hare being chased by Canis Major, who has also flushed Columbia the Dove from its hiding place near the horizon. Canis Minor is going after larger game, Monoceros the Unicorn. The stars of Monoceros are faint, so you'll need a very dark location to perceive its outline.

Elsewhere in the southern sky, there are five more animal figures to be seen, if your sky is dark enough. Far to Orion's left are Cancer the Crab and Hydra the Water Snake. To the right are Ares the Ram, Pisces the Fishes, and Cetus the Whale. These five constellations are dim and therefore challenging to spot. Don't be discouraged, though. Even if you only learn to find Orion, his dogs, and Taurus, you'll know more about the night sky than most people!
 

FEBRUARY Sky Map: Click to View PDF

February 2014 Sky Map

Sky map produced using Chris Marriott's Skymap Pro

Explore the sky night from your own backyard. A printable black and white map is provided below!

February 2014 Sky MapClick for Printable Sky Map (PDF)
Just click, print, and bring outside!

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