Go Stargazing! February 2011 Edition

Jupiter, now in the west at dusk, dominates this month’s evening skies.  It outshines all stars in the sky, so it’s easy to find.  Face west southwest at dusk and look for the brightest thing there.  It sets by 9:45 p.m. on February 1 and by 8:25 on the 28.

Venus remains a dazzling morning star.  It is getting lower in the sky as the angle between the solar system plane and the horizon gets shallower.  Face southeast at dawn, and you can’t miss it.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Elsie esq.

Saturn is in the south southwest at dawn, shifting more towards the southwest by month’s end.  It is also becoming a late evening object, rising by 11 p.m. on February 1 and by 9 p.m. on the 28.

Mars is still lost in the sun’s glare; it will remain invisible to us all winter as Earth passes around the far side of the sun from it.  Mars is in fact directly behind the sun (i.e., at conjunction) on February 4.

The Great Square of Pegasus sets in the west, while brilliant winter stars shine in the south.  Orion, the Hunter, is almost due south.  His two dogs, represented by Sirius and Procyon, are to his left.  Above Orion is Taurus, the Bull, with Aldebaran as its eye. Gemini, the Twins, are to Orion’s upper left.  Leo, the Lion, rises in the east by about 9 p.m.

Below Sirius, just above the southern horizon, is a star second only to Sirius in brightness.  This is Canopus, which marks the keel (bottom) of the legendary ship Argo Navis.  Canopus is so far south, in fact, that most Americans never see it.  From the Gulf Coast, however, Canopus does rise.  February and March are the best months to see it in the evening.

Whoa! Says the Snow Lion - what's he up to? Dance of the Fire Lion, Seattle International District, Washington State, USA
Creative Commons License photo credit: Wonderlane

Moon Phases in February 2011:

New Moon                      February 2, 8:31 pm

1st Quarter                     February 11, 1:19 am

Full Moon                       February 18, 2:36 am

Last Quarter                   February 24, 5:27 pm

The New Moon of Wednesday, February 2, is the second New Moon after the winter solstice.  Accordingly, it marks Chinese New Year.  The Year of the Tiger ends and the Year of the Hare begins at this moment.  (Correct for the time zone difference, and you’ll see that the date is February 3 in China.)

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About James

James is the Planetarium Astronomer at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. He teaches students every school morning in the planetarium, and also answers astronomy questions from the public.

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