FEBRUARY 2011, STARS OVER WOLLUMBIN, OUR SOUTHERN SKIES

February’s night skies:

dominated by Jupiter after sunset,

Saturn through the night,

while Venus is still the reigning Morning Star

Mercury and Mars are lost to view

MERCURY became a Morning Star after meeting the Sun on December 20 (Inferior Conjunction). In February our little brother will be mainly lost in the glare of the Sun.

The last chance to spot it could be February 1, when the slither, which is all is left of the Waning Moon, will be close to it in the early hours before sunrise, but only if you have a very uncluttered and level horizon in the East.

On February 25 Mercury will in fact meet the Sun again, at Superior Conjunction, on the other side of the Sun from Earth’s view point.

Mercury will return as Morning Star only in late April.

VENUS‘ beauty and outstanding brightness (4.3 magnitude) will be only for the early risers in February and until June 2011.  Venus is rising and setting about three hours before the Sun this month.

Morning Star in the first six months of 2011 she will turn Evening Star after June.

In February she will navigate between the Constellations of Ophiocus (the Serpent Holder) and Sagittarius, steadily moving away from bright Antares, alpha of Scorpio Constellation, visible above Venus in Southern latitudes.

Here is a snapshot of Venus, taken at around quarter to five in the morning on February 3 2011. Notice Antares on top.

Click to enlarge

MARS has disappeared from the sky in December, as it is now immersed in the light of the Sun, reaching its conjunction with our Star at the end of January, early February 2011.

Mars will become visible again as a Morning Star in mid-May 2011. The Red Planet will rise before the Sun then until 2012.

JUPITER is the first planet to become visible in the sunset twilight (magnitude -2.2), not far from setting in the West, having been above the horizon since around 10 am at the stat of February and just before 9 am at the end.  Jupiter is transiting against the backdrop of the Pisces Constellation.

This month Jupiter will disappear from view around 10 pm (one and half hours earlier at the end of February).

February is in fact the last month that we will be viewing Jupiter as an Evening Star, because in March it will become too close to the Sun to be visible. The Sun will reach its conjunction to Jupiter in early April, after which Jupiter will return as a Morning Star in early May.

Jupiter will slowly lose intensity and size as the month progresses, setting with the Sun by the end of March.

Still very close to URANUS at the beginning of January, Jupiter is now steadily separating from it.

The next opportunity to easily spot this remote world (through binoculars)  will come on April 23, when Venus will become very close to Uranus in the pre-dawn sky.

SATURN, at 0.6 magnitude, appears in the night sky as Jupiter disappears (around 11 pm at the beginning of February and 9 pm at the end), and stays up all night.

Much brighter objects will compete with Saturn, like Spica, alpha star of the Virgo Constellation Saturn is transiting. Throughout the month and for a few more months these two will remain close.

And also, to the South, Sirius, alpha of the Great Dog Constellation (Canis Major), brightest of all stars. And, slightly to the North, Arcturus, alpha of the Herdsman Constellation (Bootes).

Saturn will be a night star until late September 2011.

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All the Sky Snapshots have been generated using Stellarium, a wonderful Planetarium freeware software.

Information for the Sky Events has been gathered from these web sites:

http://www.suite101.com/profile.cfm/kellykw

http://home.mira.net/~reynella/skywatch/ssky.htm#update

http://astroblogger.blogspot.com/

http://homepage.ntlworld.com/mjpowell/Astro/Naked-Eye-Planets/Naked-Eye-Planets.htm#PlanetList

http://www.astronomy.com/en/News-Observing/Sky%20this%20Month.aspx

http://www.curtrenz.com/astronomical.html

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