The MCC Carr-Fles Planetarium presents free of charge “Faster than Light! The Dream of Interstellar Flight” Tuesdays and Thursdays.
View Bright Stars, Constellations and Planets in February
BY JONATHAN TRUAX, ASTRONOMER, MUSKEGON COMMUNITY COLLEGE'S CARR-FLES PLANETARIUM
This month, become a sky watcher, and brave the cold clear nights of winter to enjoy some of the brightest stars and constellations of any season, and search for four bright planets well placed for observing in the evening or morning sky.
This month, the planet Venus becomes an evening object, visible to sky watchers very low in the west southwest after sunset. Locate Venus as a brilliant yellow-white star very close to the horizon about 20 to 30 minutes after sunset. The waxing crescent moon will be near Venus the nights of February 16 and 17.
During February mornings, three planets are visible in the south and southeast just before sunrise. The brightest of the three is Jupiter, being much brighter than a typical star. Look for Jupiter high in the south at dawn, among the stars of Libra to the west of Scorpius the Scorpion. The last quarter moon is very near Jupiter the mornings of January 7 and 8.
The MCC Carr-Fles Planetarium presents free of charge “Faster than Light! The Dream of Interstellar Flight” Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7:00 p.m., through March 1 and March 13 through 29. The impulse to strike out into the unknown, to see what’s over the horizon is as old as humanity. Scientists now believe that our galaxy is filled with solar systems, including up to 9 billion Sun-like stars with planets similar to Earth. Astronomers are racing to find habitable worlds, but if we find one, how will we ever get there? Narrated by Sean Bean, “Faster Than Light! The Dream of Interstellar Flight” will dazzle audiences with virtual rides aboard spacecraft of the future. The program will be followed by a brief tour of the current night sky, using the planetarium.
Sky watchers can locate Mars as a fairly bright red “star” in the southeast about an hour before sunrise. Mars is currently in the constellation of Scorpius the Scorpion, north of the bright red star Antares. The waning crescent moon will be very close to Mars the mornings of February 8 and 9.
The third planet in the morning sky is yellow star-like Saturn. Locate Saturn much lower in the dawn sky to the east of Mars and very close to the southeastern horizon. The waning crescent moon is near Saturn on the mornings of February 10t through the 12.
As darkness falls after sunset this month, the bright star Deneb is very low in the northwest. Looking in the northeast, locate the “Big Dipper” formed by the stars of Ursa Major. High in the north, locate the “W” formed by the stars of Cassiopeia. High overhead, locate the bright yellow star Capella of Auriga, the charioteer. The winter constellation of Taurus can be seen high in the east, marked by the orange star Aldebaran. Look for the Pleiades star cluster, seen as a tiny “dipper” of stars, higher in the east.
Sky watchers can locate Orion by looking for three stars in a row, the famous “belt” of Orion. Use the “belt” stars pointing downward toward the southeast, to locate the bright blue-white star Sirius the brightest star in the Heavens. A giant ellipse can be formed by connecting the star Aldebaran, to Capella, and then moving east to Pollux and Castor of Gemini, then south to Procyon a bright star east of Orion, down to Sirius of Canis Major, then west to the blue star Rigel of Orion, and then back to Aldebaran. This super constellation or asterism is called the “Winter Ellipse.”
On the night of February 23rd, look for the waxing moon to be near the stars of the Hyades cluster. This is the “V” shaped pattern of stars making up the face of Taurus. Use binoculars to watch the moon move farther away eastward from the star cluster over several hours.
The nearly Full moon will be very close to Regulus the brightest star in Leo, on the night of the 28th. Oddly, this year’s February has no Full moon because of a quirk of our calendar.
The MCC Carr-Fles Planetarium presents free of charge “Faster than Light! The Dream of Interstellar Flight” Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7:00 p.m., January 16 through March 1 and March 13 through 29. Visit the MCC Carr-Fles Planetarium website for upcoming events and call (231) 777-0289 for sky show information. Carr-Fles Planetarium is located on the Muskegon Community College campus in Room 135. Thanks to the generosity of the Reach for the Stars campaign donors, you can now experience the all-new Carr-Fles Planetarium, featuring state-of-the-art digital projection, sound and lighting systems; all-new library of shows; and modern theater seating and domed ceiling.