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.
Tuesday, February 22 – Moon occults double star Zubenelgenubi pre-dawn)
On the morning of Tuesday, February 22, observers with binoculars and backyard telescopes (green circle) in much of Mexico, the USA, and western Canada can watch the Moon occult the bright double star designated Alpha1,2 Librae, or Zubenelgenubi I and II. Surrounding regions will see the Moon pass very close to those two stars, which are always separated by about 1/10 of the Moon’s diameter. The start and end times for the event vary by location. Use an astronomy app like Starry Night to look up the times for your site. In Dallas, Texas, the bright leading edge of the Moon will cover the first star at 5:25 a.m. CST or 11:25 UTC, and the second star will disappear eight minutes later. Alpha1 Librae will emerge from behind the dark limb of the Moon at 6:33 a.m. CST or 12:33 GMT, followed by its partner at 6:44 a.m. CST or 12:44 GMT. For best results, start watching several minutes ahead of each of the times quoted.
Wednesday, February 23 – Third quarter Moon (at 22:32 UTC)
When the Moon reaches its third quarter phase at 5:32 p.m. EST or 22:32 UTC on Wednesday, February 23, it will rise at about midnight, and then remain visible in the southern sky all morning. 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 3.5 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.
Thursday, February 24 – Crescent Moon near Antares (pre-dawn)
When the waning crescent Moon rises over the southeastern horizon shortly before 2 a.m. local time on Thursday, February 24, it will be perched two finger widths to the left (or three degrees to the celestial northeast) of Mars’ “rival”, the bright, reddish star Antares in Scorpius. The scorpion’s claw stars will extend to the right (west) of the duo, while stars of its body and tail will descend below them (celestial south). Include the bright planets Mars and Venus shining off to their left to compose a nice wide-field photograph. The By the time that the sky has brightened enough to hide Antares, around 6 a.m. local time, the Moon will have climbed to Antares’ upper left.
Sunday, February 27 – Old Moon, Mars and Venus align (pre-dawn)
In the southeastern pre-dawn sky on Sunday morning, February 27, the old crescent Moon will form a neat line with extremely bright Venus at the top and much fainter, reddish Mars in the center, making a terrific photo opportunity when composed with some interesting landscape. The fist-wide arrangement won’t allow all three objects to share the view in binoculars (green circle), but Venus and Mars or Mars and the Moon, will. Even after magnitude 1.26 Mars fades into the brightening sky, the Moon and magnitude -4.75 Venus will remain visible until almost sunrise.
Monday, February 28 – Crescent Moon with Mercury and Saturn (before sunrise)
Look just above the east-southeastern horizon before sunrise on Monday, February 28 to see the slim crescent of the old, waning Moon shining a palm’s width to the lower right (celestial southwest) of the planets Mercury and Saturn. The trio will be higher, and in a darker sky, for observers in the tropics and at southerly latitudes, where the ecliptic (green line) will be more vertical. Watch for the bright planets Mars and Venus shining about two fist diameters to the celestial west of the trio.
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.