The night sky in February

This summary is from the transcript of “What’s Up In February 2015” by NASA announcer and astronomer Jane Houston Jones

What’s Up for February 2015? Planetary pairs – just in time for Valentine’s month.

If you wake up early mid-month, you’ll see the moon glide by Saturn in the south-southeast sky over Seattle an hour before dawn. Keep looking over the next two mornings and you’ll see the crescent moon bookend Mercury, very close to the horizon. And those are not the only meet-ups between solar system bodies this month.

Venus, traditional goddess of love, attracts Mars, though their closest encounter happens a week after Valentine’s Day, on Feb. 21.  And on the same day, the two planets are just a moon-width  –  half a degree – apart.  This will be in the west-southwest sky over Metchosin.

Galileo and Jupiter – In 1609, Galileo learned of the invention of the telescope, and began to make his own. Over the next months and years, he observed the moon, Jupiter, Venus, Mars, Saturn, several star clusters and even sunspots on the sun.

This is the best month to observe Jupiter – it reaches opposition on Feb. 6 and is visible all month long. Just after 6 p.m., Jupiter rises in the northeast over Vancouver, rising in an arc just like the sun and moon. Around 8 p.m. it will be starting to look very bright over Bellingham. Jupiter’s moons perform their ballet just as they did when Galileo observed them in 1610. Using modern telescopes, you’ll be able to see the moons pass in front of and behind one another as they march across the planet, casting tiny shadows. Steady binoculars on a tripod should also work.

It’s also a great month to view the asteroid Juno through telescopes. Juno was discovered by K. Harding in 1804. You’ll find it near the pretty collection of stars known as the Beehive Cluster. Juno is seen near the constellation  Cancer just to 2 o’clock of Jupiter. The moon and Juno are seen near the Beehive Cluster around midnight.

Here is a useful list of events by date in February 2015: http://skymaps.com/articles/n1502.html.

For grandma with her new iPhone, show her how to download the iPhone app called Sky Map and turn her iPhone or iPad into a window on the night sky. This is a free app on the iPhone. Highly recommended. All you have to do is point your device at the sky and the Sky Map will tell you exactly what you are looking at.

You can learn more about all the solar system bodies at solarsystem.nasa. gov. And you can learn about all of NASA’s missions at www. nasa. gov. You can also learn much more about  our night sky and see our new “real time” Cattle Point Night Sky map at: www.cattlepointstarpark.org.

By the way, does anyone have a photograph of sunrise on June 21 – the summer solstice – preferably from Cattle Point Star Park? We are planning a surprise event and need to know exactly where the sun rises on this day.

Dark skies to all friends of Cattle Point Star Park.

This summary is from the transcript of “What’s Up In February 2015” by NASA announcer and astronomer Jane Houston Jones, with specific permission for localization to Cattle Point Urban Star Park and the Oak Bay News.

Bill Smith is a volunteer at Cattle Point Dark Sky Urban Star Park.