Every week, SkyNews publishes a list of key events in the Canadian sky in This Week’s Sky. This series gives you all the latest news in Solar System movements, including where the planets are in our sky and Moon phases. From eclipses to meteor showers, This Week’s Sky keeps you updated on the best in upcoming astronomical highlights.
Monday, February 13 – Third quarter Moon (at 16:01 GMT)
When the Moon reaches its third quarter phase at 12:01 p.m. EST, 9:01 a.m. PST, or 16:01 GMT on Monday, February 13, it will rise at about midnight in your local time zone, and then linger into the southern sky during morning daylight. At third, or last, quarter the Moon is illuminated on its western side, towards the pre-dawn Sun. Third quarter Moons are positioned ahead of the Earth in our trip around the Sun. About three and a half hours later, Earth will occupy that same location in space. The week of dark, moonless evening skies that follow this phase will be ideal for observing deep sky targets.
Tuesday, February 14 – Half-Moon near Antares (pre-dawn)
Low in the southern sky before dawn on Tuesday, February 14, the waning third quarter Moon will shine several finger widths to the upper right (or less than five degrees to the celestial northwest) of the bright, orange-tinted star Antares (the heart of the Scorpion) — close enough to share the view in binoculars (green circle). Skywatchers in more westerly time zones will see the Moon somewhat closer to the twinkling star.
Tuesday, February 14 – Brilliant Venus passes blue Neptune (evening)
In the western evening sky on Tuesday, February 14, the orbital motion of the brilliant planet Venus will carry it closely past the far fainter blue speck of Neptune.
Neptune will be positioned a half finger’s width above (or 0.6 degrees to the celestial east-northeast of) the bright planet on Tuesday. On Wednesday, it will instead be the same distance below (or west-southwest of) Venus. On both nights, they will be cozy enough to share the view in a backyard telescope (small green circle).
Although Venus will be only 21 times nearer Earth than Neptune, it will outshine the remote planet by almost 12 magnitudes, or 54,000 times – making simultaneous telescope viewing of the pair impossible. Instead, hide Venus just out of sight beyond the edge of your field of view, bearing in mind that your telescope will invert and/or mirror the scene shown here.
Friday, February 17 – The spectacular Orion Nebula (overnight)
The bright stars of mighty Orion, the Hunter, shine in the southern sky on mid-February evenings. The sword of Orion, which covers an area of 1.5 by one degrees (about the end of your thumb held up at arm’s length), descends from Orion’s three-starred belt. The patch of light in the middle of the sword is the spectacular and bright nebula known as the Orion Nebula or Messier 42 and NGC 1976.
While simple binoculars will reveal the fuzzy nature of this object, medium-to-large aperture telescopes (green circle) will show a complex pattern of veil-like gas and dark dust lanes and the Trapezium Cluster, a tight clump of young stars that formed inside the nebula. Adding an Oxygen-III or broadband nebula filter will reveal even more details. The nebula and the stars forming within it are approximately 1,350 light-years from the Sun, in the Orion arm of our Milky Way galaxy.
Saturday, February 18 – A sliver of Moon and Mercury (before sunrise)
Before sunrise on Saturday, February 18, skywatchers with an unobstructed view towards the southeastern horizon can look low in the brightening sky for the sliver of the waning crescent Moon. It will be positioned a generous palm’s width to the right (or 7.5 degrees to the celestial southwest) of magnitude -0.23 Mercury’s dot. The five per cent illuminated Moon will be only two days away from new. Observers located at more southerly latitudes will see the pair much more easily — higher and in a darker sky — but the Moon will be higher in the sky than Mercury. Be sure to turn all optics away from the eastern horizon before the Sun rises.
Chris Vaughan is a science writer, geophysicist, astronomer, planetary scientist and an “outreach RASCal.” He writes Astronomy Skylights, and you can follow him on Twitter at @astrogeoguy. He can also bring his Digital Starlab portable inflatable planetarium to your school or other daytime or evening event. Contact him through AstroGeo.ca to tour the Universe together.