Pictured is a scene from We Are Stars, a planetarium show appearing through February 27, and March 10 through March 26, at the MCC Carr-Fles Planetarium.
Enjoy Star Watching in the Clear Nights of Winter
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 five bright planets well placed for observing in the evening or morning sky.
During late 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 low in the southeast about an hour before dawn, among the stars of Sagittarius to the east of Scorpius the Scorpion. The waning crescent moon is very near Jupiter the morning of February 19th.
The planet Mars is very close to Jupiter all month. Locate a fairly bright red “star” above and right of brilliant Jupiter. The waning crescent moon is right next to Mars the morning of February 18.
The third planet visible before dawn is Saturn. Locate Saturn as a fairly bright “star” fainter and to the left or east of Jupiter among the stars of Sagittarius. The thin waning crescent moon will be very close to Saturn the morning of February 20.
Sky watchers can easily locate Venus this month as an incredibly bright white “star” high in the west after sunset. The waxing crescent moon will be very close to Venus the evenings of February 26 and 27.
Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7:00 p.m., through February 27, and March 10 through March 26, 2020, the MCC Carr-Fles Planetarium presents We Are Stars. What are we made of? Where did it all come from? Explore the secrets of our cosmic chemistry, and our explosive origins. Connect life on Earth to the evolution of the Universe by following the formation of Hydrogen atoms to the synthesis of Carbon, and the molecules for life. Narrated by Andy Serkis. The program will be followed by a brief tour of the current night sky, using the planetarium.
The last planet visible this month is perhaps the most challenging. Observers can locate Mercury late in the month very low in the west about 40 minutes after sunset. Look below Venus for a white “star” close to the western horizon much brighter than typical stars.
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 3, look for the waxing gibbous 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 Full moon will be very close to Regulus the brightest star in Leo, on the nights of the 9th and 10th.
The MCC Carr-Fles Planetarium presents free of charge “We Are Stars” Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7:00 p.m., through February 27, and March 10 through March 26, 2020. 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 Carr-Fles Planetarium with state-of-the-art digital projection, sound and lighting systems; all-new library of shows; and modern theater seating and domed ceiling.