Saturn and the Moon provide and early morning delights this week for early risers. We have a couple bright Iridium flares, and two royal constellations to check out. Let’s hope this week we get a reprieve from the snow and have some clear skies. Here is your guide to the sky for February 19 -26, 2017…
Sun – Earth – Moon
Sunrise this week is at 6:24 am and sunset at 5:14 pm. New Moon takes place on Sunday at 9:58 am and there is an annual solar eclipse that day, but it is NOT visible here in Maine. It will be visible in Southern Africa and the South Atlantic Ocean. Annular eclipses occur when the Moon does not completely cover the Sun, leaving an annulus or ring of sunlight showing. Later this year in August we have a total solar eclipse here in the US on August 21. More on that in upcoming editions.
Venus and Mars now are starting to drift apart. Venus will set at 8:30 pm, while Mars is visible to around 9:00 pm. Jupiter rises around 9:30 pm east and is four degrees north of the bright star Spica in Virgo. On Monday night Saturn rises in the eastern sky around 3:00 am and is four degrees south of a waning crescent Moon. A small telescope of 2 inches or more in diameter will reveal the beautiful rings of Saturn if you have access to one.
Constellation of the Week
The last couple week we have looked at Ursa Major (the Big Dipper) and Ursa Minor (the Little Dipper) which are circumpolar constellations, meaning they never set and are visible year round. So staying with this theme, let’s use the Big Dipper to find another one in the northern sky. Just like last week follow the front two stars in the bowl of the dipper, out the open end (as if you were flipping a pancake) and go to the North Star again. This time continue past it until you run into a dim house shaped group of stars. This is Cepheus the king. Just nest to him you will find a bright “W” shaped group which is his wife Queen Cassiopeia. These are often seen as the king and queen of ancient Aethiopia according to the Greeks, and Cassiopeia was known for her vanity! Cepheid variable stars -which vary in brightness with very established periods -are named after Cepheus because this was where they first were discovered. These stars have helped us determine distances to galaxies beyond the Milky Way.
Satellites to see
Last week we had some great passes of the International Space Station, but this week it will not be visible. Instead this week try seeing the Tiangong 1 on Wednesday morning from 5:44 to 5:50 am moving from southwest to east or on Sunday morning from 5:25 to 5: 30 am moving from west-southwest to east. There is also two bright Iridium flares to see this week. Tuesday look for one at 7:02 pm in the southeast halfway between the horizon and the zenith (the point straight overhead). On Wednesday there is one at 5:40 am in the south one third of the way up from the horizon to the zenith.
Maine has wonderful skies and winter ones are really clear – when it is not snowing! Weather for the week ahead should be better with some good chances for clear skies. Do bundle up when you go out, and take a few minutes to enjoy the beauty and wonder of the universe which we continue to explore. Happy stargazing and keep your eye on the sky!