The Sky Above You – February 2018
By Duncan Lunan
There is no Full Moon in February this year. The Moon was Full on January 31st, and the lunar month is longer at this time of year, because the Earth’s orbit around the Sun is not a perfect circle, so the Moon will next be Full on March 2nd. The Moon is New on February 15th. On February 23rd at approximately 4.37 p.m. (depending on location) the Moon will occult the bright star Aldebaran in Taurus, in daylight but visible in small telescopes. The star will emerge at around 5.44 p.m., soon after sunset.
The planet Mercury is out of sight behind the Sun in February and at superior conjunction with it on February 17th. On February 28th it might be glimpsed in the evening sky two degrees below and to the right of Venus, but both will be very low in the sky.
Venus re-enters the evening sky at the end of February but will still be low even in March.
Mars is in Libra in the morning sky, moving into Ophiucus in February, still low down but becoming steadily brighter. Mars is passed by the Moon on February 9th, and on the 10th it’s in conjunction with the red star Antares, whose name translates as ‘the rival of Mars’.
Ceres, the largest of the asteroids, was at opposition in Cancer, on January 31st, at its nearest to us for the year, and is visible through binoculars throughout February. It’s now known that the crust of Ceres is rich in water-bearing compounds and it may have had an ocean in its early history, suggesting that it formed nearer to the Sun than it is now. The mysterious bright spots detected in the early 2000s have been identified as salt deposits from recent outbreaks of water, and NASA’s Dawn mission has remained in orbit around Ceres in hopes to observe one or more of these while the asteroid is at its closest to the Sun.
Jupiter in Libra is still in the morning sky, with the Moon nearby on February 7th. On the morning of February 13th the shadow of Europa, one of Jupiter’s four large moons, will cross the planet to the north of the Great Red Spot. NASA’s Juno mission over the poles of Jupiter, originally scheduled to end in February, has been extended to July with the option of continuing further.
Saturn is in Sagittarius, invisible behind the Sun in February.
Uranus in Pisces can still be observed with binoculars or telescopes, setting around 11 p.m., 9 p.m. by the end of the month.
Neptune in Aquarius is behind the Sun during February and March.
The next meeting of the Astronomers of the Future Club, financed by the AOTF’s grant from South Ayrshire Council, will be on Thursday February 22nd, at 7.15 pm in the RSAS Barassie Works Club, 4 Shore Road, Troon, KA10 6AG. AOTF Treasurer Duncan Lunan will talk on ‘The Earth from Space’,.as seen from spacecraft at various distances.
Duncan Lunan’s collection of time-travel stories, “The Elements of Time”, illustrated by Sydney Jordan, is available from the publishers at www.shorelineofinfinity.com. Duncan’s recent books “Children from the Sky”, “The Stones and the Stars” and “Incoming Asteroid! What Could We Do About It?” are available on Amazon or through booksellers; more details are on Duncan’s website, www.duncanlunan.com.
The Sky Above You
By Duncan Lunan
I began writing this column in early 1983 at the suggestion of the late Chris Boyce. At that time the Post Office would allow 1000 free mailings to start a new business, just under the number of small press newspapers in the UK at the time. I printed a flier with the help of John Braithwaite (of Braithwaite Telescopes) offering a three-part column for £5, with the sky this month, a series of articles for beginners, and a monthly news feature. The column ran from May 1983 to May 1993 in various newspapers and magazines, but never in more than five outlets at a time, although every one of those 1000-plus papers would have included an astrology column. Since then it’s appeared sporadically in a range of publications including The Southsider in Glasgow and the Dalyan Courier in Turkey, but most often, normally three times per year, in Jeff Hawke’s Cosmos since the first issue in March 2003. It appeared monthly online in Cosmic Aspects and continues to appear monthly in the Ayrshire Post.
The monthly maps for the column were drawn for me by Jim Barker, based on similar, uncredited ones in Dr. Leon Hausman’s “Astronomy Handbook” (Fawcett Publications, 1956). Jim had to redraw or elongate several of them because they were drawn for mid-US latitudes, about 40o North. The biggest change needed was in November when only Dubhe, Merak and Megrez of the Big Dipper, as the US version called it, were visible at that latitude. In the UK, all the stars of the Plough are circumpolar, always above the horizon. We decided to keep an insert in the January map showing the position of M42, the Great Nebula in the Sword of Orion, and for that reason, to stick with the set time of 9 p.m., (10 p.m. BST in summer), although in Scotland the sky isn’t dark then during June and July.
To use the maps in theory you should hold them overhead, aligning the North edge to true north, marked by Polaris and indicated by Dubhe and Merak, the Pointers. It’s more practical to hold the map in front of you when looking south and then rotate it as you face east, south and west. Some readers are confused because east is on the left, opposite to terrestrial maps, but that’s because they’re the other way up. When you’re facing south and looking at the sky, east is on your left.
The star patterns are the same for each month of each year, and only the positions of the planets change. (“Astronomy Handbook” accidentally shows Saturn in Virgo during May, showing that the maps weren’t originally drawn for the Hausman book.) Consequently regular readers of JHC have by now built up a complete set of twelve.
Duncan recording The Sky Above You programs for the Falkland Island’s TV