Venus the goddess of love, along with a bright Iridium satellite provide some great views for Valentine’s Day. Why not take the one you love outside and spend a few minutes stargazing? Here is your guide to the sky for February 12 -18, 2017…
Sun – Earth – Moon
Sunrise this week is at 6:37 am and sunset at 5:02 pm. The Sun will be transitioning from the constellation of Capricornus to Aquarius this week on Thursday. Over the course of the year, the position of the Earth changes and it makes it look like the Sun moves versus the background constellations – but remember the Earth is doing the moving and this is a point of view thing. The ancient Zoroastrians (who lived in Persia) charted the apparent motion of the Sun noting it passed through 12 constellations which later became the zodiacal ones. The Moon and planets visible to the unaided eye also appear to pass through these constellations. From this they created horoscopes and astrology. In our modern world, we know that the Earth is doing the moving, not the Sun, and the planets are physical objects and not gods or goddesses. If you read horoscopes, you might notice the positions I give are off from them. This is because the Earth has wobbled on its axis since the original ones were created over 4,000 years ago, so the zodiacal band has shifted. Horoscopes have no basis in science. Last Quarter Moon takes place on Friday at 2:33 pm and it is at apogee that day as well.
In the west after sunset Venus and Mars glow and pair sets around 9:00 pm. This week Friday, Venus is at its greatest illuminated extent, so viewing it through a telescope you would see a wonderful crescent phase to the planet. Venus was thought to be the goddess of love by some ancient cultures so you might want to gaze at it with your sweetheart this week. Jupiter rises shortly around 10:00 pm in the east and is joined by the Waning Gibbous Moon on Wednesday when the two are three degrees apart. Saturn rises in the eastern sky around 3:30 am, while Mercury is lost in the glow of sunrise and we’ll have to wait until mid-March to see it again.
Constellation of the Week
Last week we found Ursa Major (the Great Bear) or “the Big Dipper”. The Big Dipper can help you find the “North Star” whose formal name is Polaris. Follow the front two stars from the bowl of the dipper out the open end, as if you were flipping a pancake and go roughly 5 times the distance between those front two stars to you see Polaris, a relatively dim star. It lies at the end of the handle of the “Little Dipper” also called Ursa Minor which is the lessor bear. Ursa Minor has no additional stars to help draw a bear, so a great deal of imagination is required! The constellation is fainter than the Ursa Major, so it might take you a try or two to see it. Give it a try early in the week, as it will be useful later in the week – keep reading to find out how…
Starchart provided by Heavens-Above.com
Satellites to see
Sunday look for the International Space Station (ISS) from 5:47 to 5:53 pm moving from the northwest to east. Monday night try finding it from 6:31 to 6:36 pm moving from northwest to southeast. Valentine’s Day show it to your sweetheart from 5:39 to 5:45 pm moving from west northwest to east. That same evening you have a chance to see an Iridium flare halfway between the Big Dipper and Little Dipper at at 6:50 pm – these are bright flares from the Iridium communication satellites as they turn in a way that reflects sunlight. They are quite spectacular but last for only a second or two but can be very bright. On February 15th see it from 6:23 to 6:28 pm moving from west to south. Friday try finding a much fainter Tiangong 2 as it makes a pass from 6:44 to 6:47 pm moving from west to south.
This month we celebrate stars at the Emera Astronomy Center with our program Stars narrated by Mark Hamill which explores their lifecycles and properties on Friday nights, to The Little Star That Could which is our children’s show teaching children how our Sun is a star and is important here on Earth. Check them out if you have a chance, and all programs include a tour of the skies as viewed here in Maine! Happy stargazing and keep your eye on the sky!