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 1 – New Moon (at 05:46 UTC)
At 12:46 a.m. EST or 05:46 UTC on Tuesday, February 1, the Moon will officially reach its new Moon phase. At that time it will be located approximately 5.1 degrees south of the Sun, in Capricornus. While new, the Moon is travelling between Earth and the Sun. Since sunlight can only reach the far side of a new Moon, and the Moon is in the same region of the sky as the Sun, our natural satellite becomes completely hidden from view for about a day.
The new Moon also marks the Lunar New Year, the beginning of the year on the traditional lunisolar Chinese calendar. The new year usually falls on the second (or third) new Moon after the winter solstice, typically between January 21 and February 20. For more about the Lunar New Year, read “Lunar New Year and lunisolar calendars” by Chris Vaughan.
For more information about the astronomical basis of the Chinese New Year, check out this RASC Calgary Centre handout.
Tuesday, February 1 – Mars passes Messier 28 (pre-dawn)
In the southeastern pre-dawn sky for several mornings centred on Tuesday, February 1, the orbital motion of Mars (red path with dates:hour) will carry the planet past the globular star cluster known as Messier 28. The cluster sits just above the star, Kaus Borealis, which forms peak of the lid of Sagittarius’ teapot-shaped star pattern. They’ll be binoculars-close (large green circle) for about a week – but at closest approach on Tuesday, Mars will shine only a finger’s width above (or 1 degree to the celestial north of) the cluster, allowing both objects to share the view in a backyard telescope (small green circle). To see the cluster more easily, try to view the duo before the sky begins to brighten. Observers at southerly latitudes will have a better view of the scene because Mars and Messier 28 will be higher, and in a darker sky. On Friday, February 11, Mars will pass closely to the south of another, smaller globular cluster designated NGC 6717.
Wednesday, February 2 – Very young Moon near Jupiter (after sunset)
On Wednesday, February 2, a short distance above the west-southwestern horizon, the very thin crescent of the young Moon will shine several finger widths to the lower left (or 4.6 degrees to the celestial south-southwest) of the bright planet Jupiter; close enough for them to share the view in binoculars (green circle). The duo will set around 7 p.m. local time, but try to view them as soon as the sky begins to darken, when they will be higher and shining through less distorting atmosphere.
Saturday, February 5 – Mars attacks the Great Sagittarius Cluster (pre-dawn)
In the southeastern pre-dawn sky on Saturday, February 5, the orbital motion of Mars (red path with dates:hour) will carry the planet through the outskirts of the large, bright globular star cluster known as the Great Sagittarius Cluster and Messier 22. The meeting will make for a terrific telescopic photo opportunity. Messier 22 is located just two finger widths to the left of the star Kaus Borealis, which forms the peak of the lid of Sagittarius’ teapot-shaped star pattern. Both objects will share the view in a backyard telescope (small green circle) from Friday to Sunday; but at closest approach on Saturday, Mars will sit only 0.2 degrees to the celestial north of the cluster. To see Messier 22 more easily, try to view the duo before the sky begins to brighten. Observers at southerly latitudes, where the pair will be higher, and in a darker sky, will have a better view.
Sunday, February 6 – Lunar libration reveals elusive oceans (evening)
Due to its orbital inclination and ellipticity, the Moon tilts up-and-down and sways left-to-right up by to a half-dozen degrees while keeping the same hemisphere pointed towards Earth at all times. Over time, this lunar libration effect lets us see 59-per-cent of the moon’s total surface without leaving the Earth. You can observe libration by noting the way major features move toward and away from the limb of the Moon, and up and down. Mare Crisium is a 556-kilometre diameter basin that is easy to see using your unaided eyes, binoculars and telescopes. It is located near the eastern edge of the Moon, just north of the Moon’s equator (the up-down red curve). On Sunday, February 6, libration will shift Crisium farther from the Moon’s right-hand (eastern) edge. On the same evening, look closely for two dark patches positioned between Mare Crisium and the Moon’s edge. Those maria, named Smythii and Marginis, are difficult to see unless the Moon’s eastern limb is rotated towards Earth.
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.