This hemispheric view of Venus was created using more than a decade of radar investigations culminating in the 1990-1994 Magellan mission, and is centered on the planet's North Pole. This composite image was processed to improve contrast and to emphasize small features, and was color-coded to represent elevation. Gaps in the elevation data from the Magellan radar altimeter were filled with altimetry from the Venera spacecraft and the Pioneer Venus missions. Image courtesy NASA/JPL/USGS.
February's Stars, Planets and Constellations Bright for Viewing
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 in the evening or morning sky.
This month sky watchers will find the red planet Mars high up in the south nearly overhead at sunset. Look for a fairly bright red-orange star just to the west of the Pleiades star cluster of Taurus the Bull. The first quarter moon will be very close to Mars the night of February 18 and 19 making Mars easy to spot.
During late February mornings, three planets are visible in the south and southeast just before sunrise. The brightest of the trio is Jupiter, being much brighter than a typical star. Look for Jupiter low in the southeast about 30 minutes before dawn, among the stars of Capricornus. Above or west of Jupiter, but very close, look for two fainter “stars.” The one on the right is the planet Saturn. The one to the left is Mercury.
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 nights of February 19 and 20, 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.
The waxing gibbous moon will be very close to the twin stars Castor and Pollux on the nights of the 22nd and 23rd.
This month’s Full moon occurs on the night of the 26th and will be located in the constellation of Leo the Lion. Locate the bright star Regulus to the west of the moon that night.
The MCC Carr-Fles Planetarium is closed until August 2021. 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.