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Sky Diary

February 2016 Observing Guide

The Sun

At the start of the month, the Sun rises at 08:15 and sets at 17:00. By month’s end, it rises at 07:15 and sets at 18:00.

The Planets

Mercury is at greatest western elongation on the 7th and is visible in the morning sky at the start of the month. It is not visible past mid-month. At the start of the month, it rises at 7:00 and is mag +0.2. On the morning of the 12th, it lies within 4° of Venus.

Venus is visible in the morning sky during the month, but is hard to spot by month’s end. At the start of the month, it rises at 06:45 and by month’s end at 06:40. It fades from mag -3.8 to mag -3.7 during the month. On the morning of the 12th, it lies close to Mercury (see above).

Mars is at western quadrature on the 7th and is visible in the morning sky in Libra this month. At the start of the month, it rises at 02:00 and by month’s end at 01:25. It brightens from mag +0.8 to mag +0.3 during the month.

Jupiter is visible in the evening sky in Leo this month. At the start of the month, it rises at 20:45 and by month’s end at 18:40. It brightens from mag -2.2 to mag -2.3 during the month.

Saturn is visible in the morning sky and is in Ophiuchus this month. At the start of the month, it rises at 04:40 and by month’s end at 03:00. It brightens from mag +1.3 to mag +1.2 during the month.

Uranus is visible in Pisces this month. At the start of the month, it sets at 23:15 and by month’s end at 21:30. It maintains its brightness at mag +5.9 and lies to the S of Epsilon (ε) Piscium, mag +4.3 during the month.

Neptune is visible in Aquarius at the start of the month, but is at conjunction on the 28th. At the start of the month, it sets at 19:25 and is mag +8.0. It lies between Lambda (λ) Aquarii, mag +3.7 and Sigma (σ) Aquarii, mag +4.8.

The Moon

The last quarter moon is on the 1st with the new moon on the 8th. The first quarter moon is on the 15th with the full moon on the 22nd.

On the mornings of the 1st and 2nd, the moon lies close to Mars. On the 1st, the waning gibbous moon lies 6° to the N of the planet and on the 2nd; the waning crescent moon lies to the SE of it. On both mornings, look at around 04:00.

On the mornings of the 3rd and 4th, the waning crescent moon lies close to Saturn. On the 3rd, it lies to the NW of the planet and on the 4th, it lies 8° to the E of it. On both mornings, look at around 06:00.

On the morning of the 6th, the waning crescent moon lies 6° to the NE of Venus and 8° to the NW of Mercury at around 07:00.

On the evening of the 9th, the waxing crescent moon lies 5° to the SW of Neptune at around 18:00.

On the evening of the 12th, the waxing crescent moon lies 4° to the SE of Uranus at around 20:00.

On the evenings of the 15th and 16th, the waxing gibbous moon lies close to Aldebaran (Alpha (α) Tauri, mag +0.9). On the 15th, it lies 7° to the SW of the star and on the 16th, it lies 8° to the E of it. On both evenings, look at around 20:00.

On the evening of the 20th, the waxing gibbous moon lies to the S of M44 – The Beehive Cluster at around 20:00.

On the evening of the 21st and 22nd, the moon lies close to Regulus (Alpha (α) Leonis, mag +1.4). On the 21st, the waxing gibbous moon lies 8° to the NW of the start. On the 22nd, the waning gibbous moon lies to the S of it. On both evenings, look at around 20:00.

On the evening of the 23rd, the waning gibbous moon lies 4° to the W of Jupiter at around 20:00.

On the evening of the 26th, the waning gibbous moon lies 5° to the NE of Spica (Alpha (α) Virginis, mag +1.0) at around midnight.

Meteors

The best time to observe meteor showers is when the moon is below the horizon; otherwise its bright glare limits the number you will see especially the fainter ones. Below is a guide to this month’s showers.

There are no bright meteor showers this month.

There may be additional minor showers this month, details of which can be found at meteorshowersonline.com/calendar.html or imo.net/files/data/calendar/cal2016.pdf

Asteroids

Asteroid (40) Harmonia is opposition on the morning of the 5th at mag +9.7. It is visible in Cancer from 19:00 on the evening of the 4th.

Asteroid (5) Astraea is at opposition during the day on the 15th at mag+8.7. It is visible in Leo from 20:00 on the evenings of the 14th and 15th.

Finder charts and further information about other fainter asteroids can be found at; britastro.org/computing/charts_asteroid.html in the source list below.

Comets

Comet C/2013 US10 Catalina is visible in the evening sky this month. Current estimates have it at mag +6 and it will fade during February. It is circumpolar throughout the month and lies close to Polaris (Alpha (α) Ursa Minoris, mag+2.0) at the start of the month. It then moves into Camelopardalis and on the night of the 8th/9th, it lies close to Collinder 464, a mag+4.2 open cluster. On the night of the 13th/14th, it lies between Alpha (α) Camelopardalis, mag +4.3 and Gamma (γ) Camelopardalis, mag+4.6. On the night of the 22nd/23rd, it lies close to NGC 1502, a mag+6.9 open cluster at the edge of Kemble’s Cascade.

Comet C/2014 S2 (PanSTARRS) is currently mag +9 and is expected to remain at similar brightness for the next few months. It will be visible in Draco this month and will be circumpolar.

Comet C/2013 X1 (PanSTARRS) is currently mag +8 and brightening. It is expected to peak at mag +4/5 in the summer. At the start of the month, it is in the Square of Pegasus and sets at 21:00. It then heads into Pisces and is too close to the sun to be visible by month’s end. It will reappear in the morning sky late April/early May.

Finder charts and further information about the above and other fainter comets can be found at www.aerith.net, cometchasing.skyhound.com, www.ast.cam.ac.uk/%7Ejds/ , in-the-sky.org, www.nightskyhunter.com/index.html in the source list below. Any of the above estimates are based on current information at the time of writing the guide and can be wrong – “Comets are like cats; they have tails, and they do precisely what they want”, David H Levy.

Deep Sky

On the deep sky front this month, galaxies M81 and M82 can be observed in Ursa Major. In Andromeda, M31 – The Andromeda galaxy can be observed along with its satellite galaxies M32 and M110. In Perseus, there is the open cluster M34 and the excellent Double Cluster – NGC 869 and 884. In Triangulum, there is the galaxy M33. In Auriga there are three open clusters M36, M37 and M38 and also M35 in Gemini. Taurus has the excellent Pleiades – M45, the Hyades and also M1 – The Crab Nebula. Orion returns to our skies with M42 – The Great Orion Nebula and also Cancer with M44 – The Beehive Cluster and M67. Check out the constellation Canes Venatici with the globular cluster – M3 and several galaxies including M51 – the Whirlpool Galaxy and M63 – the Sunflower Galaxy. In Leo, we have several galaxies on view including The Leo Triplet – M65, M66 and NGC 3628. M95, M96 and M105 can also be observed in Leo. The place to really find galaxies is in Virgo. The Virgo Super Cluster can be found here with numerous galaxies on view. In Coma Berenices, there is M64 – the Black-Eye Galaxy.

General Notes

Always keep an eye out for Aurorae. Other interesting naked eye phenomena to look out for include the Zodiacal Light and the Gegenschein.

Both are caused by sunlight reflecting off dust particles which are present in the solar system. The Zodiacal Light can be seen in the West after evening twilight has disappeared or in the East before the morning twilight. The best time of year to see the phenomenon is late-Feb to early-April in the evening sky and September/October in the morning sky – it’s then that the ecliptic, along which the cone of the zodiacal light lies, is steepest in our skies. The Gegenschein can be seen in the area of the sky opposite the sun. To view either, you must get yourself to a very dark site to cut out the light pollution. When trying to observe either of these phenomena, it is best to do so when the moon is below the horizon. A new appendix has been added explaining some of the more technical terms used in the guide.

 

Clear Skies,

We at Big Bear Planetariums would like to thank Neill McKeown for sending us the Sky dairy each month.

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