Tag: Hyades

Skywatching February 2013

Orion the Hunter is visible in the southern
skies during the early evening hours of February.
(NASA photo)

Sun

Daylight rapidly increases during February.  On the first day of the month, the sun is in the sky for slightly over 10 hours.  By month’s end, daylight lasts for nearly 11.3 hours.  The net gain during the month is 80 minutes.

Moon Phases

Phase Date Moonrise Moonset
Last Quarter Feb 3 12:28 a.m. 10:45 a.m.
New Moon Feb. 10 6:41 a.m. 6:10 p.m.
First Quarter Feb 17 11:11 a.m. 1:24 a.m.  (02/18)
Full Moon Feb 25 5:50 p.m. 6:31 a.m. (02/26)

Times from the U.S. Naval Observatory

Evening Sky

Mercury makes its best appearance of the year in the western evening sky.  Because it appears in the west for a short time after sunset, viewers need a good horizon and a clear western sky.  Mercury passed behind the sun (superior conjunction) on January 18, moving east (evening) of the sun.  It has been emerging from the sun’s glare since.

mars_merc

On February 8, Mercury passes within a full moon diameter (0.3 degrees) of dimmer Mars.  With the view of a clear horizon, look for the pair about 30 minutes after sunset through binoculars in the west-southwestern sky.

merc_lune

On the evening of February 11, the moon passes 6 degrees to the upper right of Mercury as shown in the chart above with planet and moon displayed at 6 p.m. CST.

merc_gee

On February 16, Mercury reaches its greatest angular separation ( greatest elongation) (18 degrees) from the sun as seen in our skies.  This makes it the best evening appearance of the year as seen from the Chicago area and the northern mid-latitudes.  Mercury appears in the evening sky three times this year and three times in the morning sky.  The best morning appearance for the Chicago area is in mid-November.

The chart above shows Mercury at sunset during its greatest eastern elongation with its invisible orbit sketched in the view.  The planet has reached a place on its orbit where it appears farthest away from the sun.  Mars is below Mercury.

Mercury is rarely visible in a dark sky, usually setting during twilight in its evening appearance or rising during early morning twilight at its morning appearance.

jup_lune

Jupiter is a the dazzling “star” visible high in the southern skies during the early evening hours throughout the month.  At mid-month, the moon passes Jupiter.  On February 17, the moon is 5 degrees to the lower right of Jupiter.  On the next evening, the pair is separated by nearly 7 degrees.

Jupiter is in front of the stars of Taurus with its bright star Aldebaran and two bright star clusters:  Pleiades and Hyades.  Look at the clusters through binoculars on evenings when the moon is not in that part of the sky.

Morning Sky

Saturn is visible in the southern predawn skies during February.  At the beginning of the month, Saturn rises in the southeast at 12:30 a.m. and by month’s end it appears at 10:45 p.m.  The bright star Spica appears about 18 degrees to the right of Saturn.

sat_spica_lune

Early in the month, the moon passes Spica and Saturn.  On the morning of February 2, the moon is 5 degrees to the lower left of Spica and 12 degrees to the lower right of Saturn.  On February 3, the moon is 4.5 degrees below Saturn as shown on the above chart.

Venus rapidly moves into the sun’s bright glare during the month to reappear in the evening sky in the spring, closing out its morning apparition for 2012-2013.

sol_sys

If we could see the solar system from above, we could see its distribution of planets around the sun.  (Click the image to see it larger.) Venus is moving behind the sun as seen from Earth.  Mercury and Venus appear together in the evening sky.

Take a look at the February sky!

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Jupiter Tonight, January 1, 2013

DSC08396

Jupiter is visible this evening in the eastern sky as seen in this 30-second exposure at 6:10 p.m. CST from the Chicago area.  (Click the image to see it larger.)  This giant planet is in front of the stars of Taurus with its brightest star Aldebaran.  The Hyades star cluster is nearby and an excellent binocular target.  The Pleiades star cluster, another excellent view through binoculars, appears above Jupiter.  Elnath represents one of the bull’s horns.  Capella (Auriga) is also visible in this view.

During the night, Jupiter appears farther south toward midnight and in the west during early morning hours.  It sets well before sunrise.

For more about the sky this month, see our January 2013 skywatching posting.

Skywatching January 2013

Orion

The great winter constellation Orion appears in the eastern sky
during early evening hours this month.

Sun

During January, daylight increases by nearly an hour.  Throughout the month, the sun rises after 7 a.m. in the Chicago area.  Early in the month, the sun sets around 4:30 p.m. and by month’s end, it sets after 5 p.m.  This occurs because the sun appears higher in the sky each day.  The higher the sun is in the sky at noon, the longer it stays in the sky.

Moon

Phase

Date

Moonrise

Moonset

Last 01/04 11:14 p.m. (01/03) 10:54 a.m.
New 01/11 6:49 a.m. 4:59 p.m.
First 01/18 10:45 a.m. 12:46 a.m. (01/19)
Full 01/26 4:54 p.m. 6:59 a.m. (1/27)

Moonrise and Moonset times for Chicago, Illinois, from the U.S. Naval Observatory.  All times Central Standard Time.

Evening Sky

The Giant Planet Jupiter appears in the evening sky this month.  It is well up in the eastern sky at sunset gleaming brightly  in front of the stars of  Taurus.  It continues to retrograde (move west compared the starry background) for most of the month.

jup_jan-13

On January 30, Jupiter stops retrograding and resumes its direct motion.  The numbers (1, 10, 30) in the diagram above refer to the dates in January.

jup_lune_1-21

On January 21, the moon appears near Jupiter.  Look in the eastern sky at 7 p.m. when the pair are placed high in the eastern sky, although they can be seen together anytime on the night of January 21/22.

mars_lune_1-13

Mars continues to hide in evening twilight in the western sky during January as indicated from the image made on December 13, 2012. On January 13, a waxing crescent moon is a guide to Mars. With binoculars locate the moon; Mars appears below the thin crescent near the horizon.  Mars continues to move eastward compared to the stars, although the separation from the sun decreases during the month from 23 degrees on New Year’s Day to 17 degrees at month’s end.  Mars moves deeper into evening twilight until it passes behind the sun (conjunction) on April 18.

Mercury hides within the sun’s glow during the month and moves into the evening sky late in the month, although it is only about 10 degrees east of the sun at month’s end.  Mercury appears with Mars in February.

Morning Sky

Brilliant Venus rapidly moves into bright morning twilight.  On New Year’s Day, Venus rises about 90 minutes before the sun. By month’s end it rises about 40 minutes before the sun.

venus_lune_1-10

On January 10, a waning crescent moon appears about 2 degrees to the left of Venus in an impressive view during morning twilight.

On January 17, Venus completes one orbit since it passed between the Earth and sun that caused the Transit of Venus observed on June 5, 2012, and started Venus’ current morning appearance.

sat-lune

Saturn rises in the eastern sky during early morning hours and it is well-placed in the southern skies as morning twilight begins.  Saturn appears about 16 degrees to the lower left of the star Spica.  Early in the month, the moon moves through this part of the sky.  The chart above shows the positions of Saturn, Spica and the moon on the mornings of January 5-7 at 6 a.m. CST.

Solar System

sol_sys_1-2013

This chart shows the positions of the planets on January 15, 2013.  (Click the image to see it larger.)  Saturn and Venus are on the morning side of the solar system.  Mars and Jupiter are on the evening side with Mercury nearly behind the sun, making it in our sky during daytime.

Jupiter, Aldebaran and Orion Tonight, December 21, 2012

After several cloudy, rainy, and snowy days, a clear sky returned this evening. This 30-second exposure shows the southeastern sky at 9:10 p.m. CST from the Chicago area. (Click the image to see it larger.)  Bright Jupiter is in front of the stars of Taurus with its bright star Aldebaran.  They are paired high in the sky.  Elnath and Zeta Tauri represent the bull’s horns.  Two star clusters, Pleiades and Hyades, are excellent targets through binoculars.

Orion follows Taurus in the sky with its bright stars Betelgeuse and Rigel.  The Orion Nebula, a star forming region, is another excellent target through binoculars.

For our monthly sky watching posting, click here.

Mars and Jupiter Tonight, December 13, 2012

DSC08230

Mars shines from evening twilight as seen this evening from the Chicago area. (Click the image to see it larger.)  The Red Planet is difficult to see as it fades into bright twilight during the next four months. After Mars passes behind the sun (conjunction), it reappears in the morning sky next summer.

On December 15, the crescent moon appears above Mars. (See our monthly update for more details) Binoculars should help find the planet.

DSC08228

Meanwhile, Jupiter appears in the eastern sky during evening twilight. (Click the image to see it larger.)  Aldebaran, the brightest star in Taurus, appears nearby. The Pleiades and Hyades  star clusters are clearly visible in this image and visible to the unaided eye as well.

Jupiter rises in the eastern sky, moves higher in the sky during the evening hours. Around midnight, the planet appears high in the southern sky. During the predawn hours, Jupiter moves lower in the western sky, appearing low in the northwestern sky near sunrise.

With these observations and Venus, Mercury and Saturn this morning, that makes 5 planets visible on this date.

Jupiter Tonight, December 12, 2012

DSC08204

After another day of sunny weather, the clear sky prevailed into the early evening today. The 30- second image above shows Jupiter high in the eastern sky among the stars of Taurus as seen from the Chicago area. Aldebaran, the constellation’s brightest star, is nearby. Zeta Tauri and Elnath represent the bull’s horns. The star clusters, Pleiades and Hyades, are clearly visible and good targets through binoculars. The Pleiades are more compact cluster and contain more blue-white stars.   (Click the image to see it larger.)

For our monthly sky watching posting, click here.

Jupiter, Taurus, and Orion Tonight, December 11, 2012

DSC08197

After this morning’s grouping of planets and the moon, clear skies prevailed throughout the day and into the evening. The 30-second image above was made at 8:30 p.m. CST from the Chicago area.  (Click the image to see it larger.)

In the eastern sky bright Jupiter gleams in front of the stars of Taurus with its brightest star Aldebaran nearby. Jupiter is slowing moving backward as compared to its normal apparent motion. Tonight Jupiter and Aldebaran are separated by about 5 degrees. The bull’s horns are marked Elnath and Zeta Tauri.

Two bright star clusters appear in the image. The Pleiades is a bright relatively compact clusters composed of blue-white stars while the Hyades clusters has stars that are more widely spread and resemble a check mark. Look at them through binoculars to see the contrast in star color.

The Orion Nebula, a star forming region, is a third binocular target. It is in Orion’s sword. The three stars of nearly equal brightness make his belt with Betelgeuse at one shoulder and Rigel at a knee. Binoculars will reveal the contrast of star color between these two stars.

For our monthly sky watching posting, click here.