Snow, Golfing and Bones – time to howl at the Moon!

What do snow, golfing, and bones have in common?  This week it is the Moon!  There is no need to howl at it, but do enjoy the nice view and added moonlight this week.  Here is your guide to the sky for February 5 -11, 2017…

Sun – Earth – Moon

Sunrise this week is at 6:45 am and sunset at 4:54 pm.  Full Moon takes place on Friday at 7:33 pm and the February one is often referred to as the Snow Moon or Bone Moon by some Native American cultures.  Snow Moon because February is often when the heaviest snow falls in northern regions, and Bone Moon as this time was often scarce on food for many tribes.  Some tribes ate bone marrow soup losing weight to become “skin and bone” at this time of year.  If you prefer happier thoughts, you might turn to golfing on the Moon.  Back on February 6 of 1971, Alan Shepard became the first astronaut to hit golf balls on the Moon!  February 6 of this year the Moon is at Perigee (the closest point in its orbit) at 229,172 miles from our planet.  For perspective, the United States is roughly 3000 miles across from coast to coast.  So while it is our closest neighbor in space, it still is a bit of drive!


Venus and Mars glow in the west after sunset being roughly 5 degrees apart and the pair sets around 9:00 pm. Small telescopes will reveal Venus phases and it is just shy of a quarter phase.  For the next few weeks you will see it shrink to a crescent and grow in angular size as it gets closer to the Earth.  Jupiter rises shortly around 10:15 pm in the east and is stationary on February 6.  Saturn rises around 3:30 am for you very early morning risers, while Mercury does so at 6:06 am and is becoming much more challenging to spot in morning twilight as it is only a couple of degrees above the horizon.   Binoculars might help in spotting it.

Constellation of the Week

Over the past weeks we have explored the constellations in the winter circle around Orion, and I hope you have enjoyed finding these new sights in the sky.  Now it is time to turn north for a bit and take a look at some of the circumpolar constellations.  Circumpolar means that these constellations are visible year round after dark, so any time of the year you can find them.  We’ll start with the most famous one Ursa Major (the Great Bear) which most folks in the northern U.S. call “the Big Dipper”.  This familiar group contains seven bright stars which look like a soup pot with a long handle or a dipper for dipping water from a well.  It has also been called the “drinking gourd” and even the “celestial bureaucrat” by some.  Regardless of which name you choose, the seven bright stars are only a portion of this group.  From the stars that make the bowl of the dipper you can find a dim triangle of stars out in front which mark head of the bear,  extending from the bottom of the bowl you will find fainter stars that stretch out to mark the bears legs, and the three stars in the handle of the dipper make the bears long tail.  This celestial bear might be one of the earliest constellations, as it was not just a bear to the Greeks, but to numerous Native American and Inuit tribes.  Do check out this famous constellation this week in the northeastern sky around 8:00 pm!


starchart 2

Starchart courtesy of viewed from Maine at 8:00 pm this week

Satellites to see

The International Space Station has a bunch of bright passes this week, with the best ones being on the weekend.  Thursday look for it from 6:48 to 6:51 moving from the northwest to north.  On Friday night try finding it from 5:55 to 6:00 pm moving from northwest to northeast.  Saturday it will be visible from 6:39 to 6:43 pm moving from west to east.  You might also catch the Tiangong 2 from 6:40 to 6:43 pm that same night, but it will be much fainter.  It will be moving from the southern sky from the horizon to about 12 degrees.


The groundhog’s prediction on February 2nd was mixed – one said we have 6 more weeks of winter, the other that warmer weather was on its way.  Either way one can always get out and enjoy the stars and planets – so make sure to venture out and enjoy our Maine skies as there is always something to see!    If you enjoy seeing meteors see the Annual Meteor Shower tab on Eye on Maine Skies page for a guide to the best showers of the year.


Shawn Laatsch

About Shawn Laatsch

Shawn Laatsch is the director of the Emera Astronomy Center and Jordan Planetarium at the University of Maine. He started his astronomy education career in 1984 and has directed planetariums in university and science center facilities, taught undergraduate astronomy courses, and given numerous lectures around the globe. He serves as President (2017 & 2018) of the International Planetarium Society, Inc. the world’s largest organization of planetarium professionals. Shawn has a passion for sharing astronomy and stargazing with people of all ages.