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Urban Observing February 2014 February 2, 2014

Posted by aquillam in Astronomy, MichiganAstro, Urban Observing.
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The event of the month is the continuing visibility of the supernova in M82. Just off the end of the bowl of the Big Dipper, M82 is reasonably easy to find. Around magnitude 11, SN2014J should be visible in modest backyard telescopes. But look soon, it’s likely to fade quickly. Check out the AAVSO comparison chart if your skies are too bright to see the galaxy: http://media.skyandtelescope.com/images/SN2014J-comparison-star-chart.gif

Looking north at 10 PM on Feb 1. Look for the supernova in M82.

Looking north at 10 PM on Feb 1. Look for the supernova in M82.

There is no new moon this month. The new moon occurred on January 31 (happy Chinese New Year), and it’s 29 days between new moons, so the next one is March 1. However, there is a nice, romantic full Moon for Valentine’s day!


Mercury is just past greatest eastern elongation as February opens, so if it’s clear in the evening, look southwest soon after sunset. On Feb. 1 use binoculars and you might also be able to spot the very young moon. Look for Mercury to join Venus in the morning skies at the end of the month. A waning crescent moon joins the pair on the 25 and 26.

Just after sunset looking west on Feb 2.

Just after sunset looking west on Feb 2.

The planets in a line just before dawn on Feb 25.

The planets in a line just before dawn on Feb 25.

Venus is a bright morning star all month.

Mars rises just before midnight at the beginning of the month, and a little after 10 PM at the end of the month, making Mars best as a morning planet. It makes a nice contrast with the blue star Spica all month. Mars, a waning quarter Moon, Saturn and Venus make a nice lineup in the pre-dawn skies on Feb 20.

pre-dawn sky on Feb 20

pre-dawn sky on Feb 20

Jupiter makes a beautiful addition to the winter skies all month. It is nearly stationary in Gemini. A fat waxing Moon passes it between Feb 9 – 11. If you have a telescope, check out these Sky & Telescope apps, http://www.skyandtelescope.com/observing/objects/planets/3307071.html for the Galilean moons, and http://www.skyandtelescope.com/observing/objects/planets/3304091.html for visibility of the great red spot.

Saturn spends the month between the claws of Scorpio in the pre-dawn sky, with Venus and Mars.

Deep Sky Objects

Winter skies offer some of the nicest targets for urban observers.

Looking south at 10 PM on Feb 14.

Looking south at 10 PM on Feb 14.

The Pleiades is an open cluster in Taurus, visible to the naked eye in most skies. Binoculars or a small telescope shows dozens of stars. If you happen to have dark skies, you might be able to discern some of the gas and dust in this young cluster.

Nearby, the Orion Nebula is the real jewel of the winter skies. Also known as M42, it’s the middle star in the sword of Orion. A mid-sized telescope is enough to show that the center of the nebula has already been cleared by the strong winds and radiation from the massive stars at the center. Four of them form a trapezoid called the trapezium.

M44, also know as Praesepe or the Beehive cluster is at the center of Cancer, half way between Gemini and Leo. It’s a wide, bright open cluster, a great binocular object

For winter double stars, Castor is hard to beat. A blue-orange double, and easy to spot with a small telescope.

Sirius is a well known double since Sirius B was one of the first known white dwarfs. However, it’s so much dimmer than Sirius A that it’s actually fairly tough for most ‘scopes. Slightly better is nearby Aludra, or Eta Canis Majoris. This is a wide double with stars of very different magnitudes.

If two stars aren’t enough, try Sigma Orionis. It’s a binary and trinary system aligned as an apparent quintary system!



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