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 6 – Comet E3 ZTF Close to Zeta Aurigae (evening)
Faint fuzzy objects like comets can be a challenge for skywatchers to find in the sky. Luckily, on Monday evening, February 6 in the Americas, the path of comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) will carry it very close to a naked-eye, magnitude 3.65 star in Auriga named Zeta Aurigae, and also Hoedus I.
Owners of a backyard telescope can aim at that star and see the fuzzy greenish form of the comet in the same field of view (small green circle). The comet will pass only 10 arcminutes below (celestial south of) the star around 9:15 p.m. EST, which converts to 01:15 GMT on Tuesday.
Your telescope will flip and/or mirror image the view. Search first with binoculars (large green circle) or a low power eyepiece. Once you have spotted the comet, improve your view of it by hiding the nearby bright star just outside of the field of view and by trying out different magnifications.
Tuesday, February 7 – Evening zodiacal light (after dusk)
If you live in a location where the sky is free of light pollution, you might be able to spot the zodiacal light during the two weeks that precede the new Moon on Monday, February 20. After the evening twilight has disappeared, you will have about half an hour to check the western sky for a broad wedge of faint light extending upwards from the horizon and centered on the ecliptic and the planet Jupiter. That glow is the zodiacal light: sunlight scattered from countless small particles of material that populate the plane of our Solar System. Do not confuse it with the brighter Milky Way, which extends upwards from the northwestern evening horizon at this time of year.
Wednesday, February 8 – Dwarf planet Ceres changes direction (overnight)
On Wednesday, February 8, the dwarf planet Ceres will cease its northerly motion across the stars of northern Virgo and begin to veer westward in a retrograde loop (red path with dates:time) that will last until mid-May. In late evening on Wednesday, the magnitude 7.6 object will be located low in the eastern sky, several finger widths to the upper right (or 3.5 degrees to the celestial west) of the medium-bright star Vindemiatrix in Virgo. The bright, waning gibbous Moon shining nearby from Wednesday to Friday will make finding Ceres harder; consider waiting until the weekend for your search for this largest member of the Main Asteroid Belt.
Thursday, February 9 – The stars of Orion’s Belt (evening)
Orion’s three belt stars are bright enough to tolerate the moonlight on this night. They may look similar, but under closer inspection they are quite different. The left-most (easterly) of the three, magnitude 1.85 Alnitak (Zeta Orionis) is bluer.
In a telescope, Alnitak (Arabic for “the Girdle”) is revealed to be a very tight magnitude 1.85 double star. At 1,976 light-years from our Sun, the middle star, Alnilam (Epsilon Orionis) is more than twice as far away as the other two. At the right-hand (western) end of the row, magnitude 2.4 Mintaka (Delta Orionis) is a more widely spaced double star.
Using binoculars (green circle) look for a large, upright, S-shaped asterism of dim stars in the space between Alnilam and Mintaka. The medium-bright star sitting less than a finger’s width below (or 0.8 degrees southwest of) Alnitak is Sigma Orionis, a beautiful little grouping of ten or more stars.
Friday, February 10 – Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) meets Mars (evening)
On Friday night, February 10, the path of Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) is predicted to carry it closely past the bright red planet Mars. The pair will be positioned nearly overhead in the southwestern sky, between the very bright stars Aldebaran in Taurus, the Bull and Capella in Auriga, the Charioteer. Mars and the comet will be close enough to share the field of view in binoculars (green circle) and wide field telescopes. The comet will have faded from its predicted peak brightness, but it should still be visible in binoculars. Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) will be closest to Mars during the hours around 7 a.m. EST (or 11:00 GMT on February 11), but it will have set by 3 a.m. local time in the Americas.
Saturday, February 11 – Appreciate the Pleiades (all night)
At about 8 p.m. local time on mid-February evenings, the Pleiades open star cluster, also known as the Seven Sisters and Messier 45, will be positioned high in the southwestern sky. The rest of its home constellation Taurus, the Bull, sits to the left of the cluster.
Visually, the Pleiades is composed of medium-bright, hot blue stars named Asterope, Merope, Electra, Maia, Taygeta, Celaeno, and Alcyone. In Greek mythology, those characters were the daughters of Atlas, and half sisters of the Hyades. They are indeed related — recently born of the same primordial gas cloud. To the naked eye, only six of the sister stars are usually apparent; their parents Atlas and Pleione are huddled together at the east end of the grouping. Under magnification, hundreds of stars appear.
Not surprisingly, many cultures, including Aztec, Maori, Sioux, Hindu, and more, have noted this object and developed stories around it. In Japan, it is called Subaru, and forms the logo of the eponymous car maker. Due to its similar shape, the Pleiades are sometimes confused with the Little Dipper.
Sunday, February 12 – Pallas’ path bends (evening)
On Sunday, February 12, the large main belt asteroid designated (2) Pallas will complete an oval retrograde loop that it began in November, 2022 and resume its regular eastward prograde motion (red path with labelled dates). Tonight, Pallas will be located in the lower part of the southern evening sky, a thumb’s width above (or 1.6 degrees to the celestial north of) the pair of widely-spaced medium-bright stars named Xi1 and Xi2 Canis Majoris. They mark the lower of the dog’s front paws. On each subsequent night, Pallas will race higher while arcing a little to the left (celestial northeastward).
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.