Podcaster: Rob Webb
Title: Observing With Webb in February 2020
Organization: Physics teacher at Pequea Valley High School
Description: February starts out slow, but picks up speed as the dawn skies get crowded with some favorite planets, a lunar flyby, an occultation of Mars for some, Venus shining bright all month, and all naked eye planets visible at some point.
Bio: Rob Webb is a physics, astronomy, and sustainability teacher at Pequea Valley High School in Pennsylvania. His passions include teaching, astronomy, astrophotography, planetariums, running, reading, and golf. A proud graduate of Dickinson College in 2005, he also obtained a Master’s Degree in Science Education from Penn State University after conducting research in regards to the current state of planetariums in Pennsylvania. Feel free to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Welcome to Observing With Webb, where a high school astronomy teacher tells you what you’re looking at, why it’s so cool, and what you should check out later this month…at night.
February starts out slow, but picks up speed as the dawn skies get crowded with some favorite planets, a lunar flyby, an occultation of Mars for some, Venus shining bright all month, and all naked eye planets visible at some point.
First Quarter Moon – 1st (Visible until midnight)
Full Moon – 9th (Visible all night)
Last Quarter Moon – 15th (Visible from midnight into the morning)
New Moon – 23rd (darkest skies)
18th – Moon Occults Mars – The planets, Sun, and Moon all pretty much follow a path in the sky called the ecliptic, varying only a few degrees. That variation makes it uncommon, but not unusual, for the Moon to pass in front planets and completely block, or occult, the planet. This happens in the morning hours of February 18th. It’ll be tough to spot, as you’ll need a small telescope in order to find Mars in the twilight. However, whether you see it or not, Mars will disappear behind the Moon at 7:30am and reappear at 9:00am. If you have a tracking scope, set it up to track Mars in the early morning, then keep watching until it reappears. REALLY want to see it? Go further West, past the Mississippi River to witness it in night skies.
17th – 20th – Close Encounter – Moon, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn – This is the best week of the month to get out there!!! Get out after 6:00am each morning this Mon – Thurs and enjoy the lineup, moving up and to the right, of Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars in the SE, but also enjoy the Moon joining the party. The Moon will be up and to the right of Mars on the 17th, RIGHT next to, and occults, Mars on the 18th, less than 5˚ to the right of Jupiter on the 19th, and less than 3˚ down and to the left of Saturn on the 20th.
26th – 28th – Close Encounter – Moon, Venus – Get out after sunset and watch the SW sky. On the 26th the Moon will be a young, thin crescent about a fist-width below bright Venus. The next night the Moon moves to just 6˚ to the left of Venus, a little thicker and higher. Then on the 28th, the Moon is about 14˚ up and to the left of Venus, thicker and higher yet again.
- Around Sunset – Venus (SW),Mercury (first 2 weeks)
- Throughout the night – None
- Morning – Mars (SE), Jupiter(SE), Saturn (SE – last 2 weeks)
- MIGHT catch it during the first two weeks of February, when it’s about 10˚ above the SW horizon by around 6pm. Look for the dot that’s brighter than the stars, but dimmer than Venus.
- Venus will spend the month climbing to about 40˚ above the WSW horizon. Find a great view of the Western sky and watch the sunset. Venus will be the brightest light and first object you see off in that direction.
- Get out after 4:30am, but before sunrise, and look SE to find the ruddy red point of light that is Mars between Sagittarius and Scorpius in the beginning of the month and right above the teapot lid of Sagittarius by the end.
- Jupiter will trail Mars by about 25˚ and 2 hours at the start of February, rising around 6am. By the end of the month, it will only be about 10˚ or one fist-width from Mars, and rising around 4:30
- Saturn makes its appearance known yet again for another season in the mornings. About two weeks into the month you should be able to find Saturn less than 10˚ down and to the left of Jupiter in the SE. More importantly, however, this starts Saturn’s long, slow slog to catch up to Jupiter for a Winter Solstice conjunction of less than 1/10th of 1˚
Use a sky map from www.skymaps.com to help you out.
Orion & his winter companions –By 7pm, Orion is about as high as it will get for the night about halfway up the southern sky, tempting us to tour the winter constellations. Begin by finding Orion by looking for three stars in almost a straight line and close to each other, Orion’s Belt, which is surrounded by a bigger, vertical, almost rectangle of stars. Orion will be our guidepost for the other winter constellations. Start at the left belt star and draw a straight line connecting them, then continue that line far past the last belt star about 20˚ or two fist-widths held at arm’s length. There you’ll find the V constellation Taurus, with bright red Aldebaran at the top left of the V. Taurus is part of a big cluster of stars known as the Hyades. Remember that line you just made? Follow it just 10˚ further (one fist-width) and you’ll find a mini-mini-dipper of stars call the Pleiades, which is another open cluster of stars within our Milky Way Galaxy. Let’s go back to the belt, but draw the connecting line from right to left, and continue about 20˚ past the belt, where you’ll find the brightest star in the sky, Sirius. Perhaps you can also see the constellation Canis Major, known as the big dog. We’ll stop there for this month, and pick up next month with Gemini, Auriga, and Canis Minor.
Auriga, Gemini – Look almost straight up, and you’ll find a pentagon shaped constellation which is the Charioteer Auriga, with its brightest star Capella. Gemini, the twins, will be to the left of Auriga, with bright Castor and Pollux heading them up. For reference, Orion will be below both of them.
Leo, Big Dipper – Leo will be more to the West than before, but the Big Dipper will be super big and bright above Leo’s backward question mark.
End of podcast:
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