Dark Skies: Planets align over Oak Bay

A look at what's up in February's night sky over Oak Bay

What’s Up for February 2016? February mornings feature Mercury, Venus, Saturn, Mars and Jupiter lined up across the sky  – on the Salish Walk of the Planets for all to enjoy.

The last time this five-planet dawn lineup happened was in 2005. The planets are easy to distinguish when you use the moon as your guide.

Look for reddish Mars near the moon in the early morning of Feb. 4. This will be south over Port Angeles high in the sky.

As always, the planets will be just like a string of beads across the night sky. The arc (the ecliptic) is lower to the south in the winter. As the Sun takes the same path during the day, we are all familiar with this change from summer to winter.

On Feb. 3, the moon passes near butterscotch-hued Saturn. On the sixth the moon, Mercury and Venus make a pretty triangle before sunrise. Then it’s Jupiter’s turn to pose with the moon on Feb. 23. Through a telescope, Jupiter’s pale yellow is transformed into bands of cream, ochre and tan. Finally, the moon passes Mars again on Leap Day, Feb. 29.

In case you miss this string of planetary pearls this month, you can see all five planets again in August’s sunset sky, though Venus and Mercury will be very close to the horizon for Cattle Point Star Park observers.

Last month, comet Catalina’s curved dust tail and straight ion tail were visible in binoculars and telescopes near two galaxies that are close to the handle of the Big Dipper. Early this month, the comet nears Polaris, the North Star over Sidney. It should be visible all month long for Oak Bay observers.

There will be more opportunities to photograph comet Catalina paired with other objects this month. It passes the faint spiral galaxy IC 342 and a pretty planetary nebula named NGC 1501 between Feb. 10 and 29.

For viewers using binoculars, the magnitude-6 comet pairs with a pretty string of stars known as Kemble’s Cascade on Feb. 24.

Finally, through binoculars you should be able to pick out Vesta and Uranus near one another this month. You can use the moon as a guide on Feb. 12 and the corner stars of Pegasus all month long.

You can learn about NASA’s missions to the planets and beyond at nasa.gov.

Dark Skies to all friends of Cattle Point Star Park.

Summary by Bill Smith and the RASCals of Cattle Point, volunteers at Cattle Point DARK SKY Urban Star Park, is from the transcript of “What’s Up In February 2016” by NASA announcer and astronomer Jane Houston Jones, with specific permission for localization to the Oak Bay News.