Astronomy

Astronomy
Astronomy Guide to the Night Sky – February 2018

With the Newbury Astronomical Society

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The chart above shows the night sky looking south at about 21:00 GMT on 15th February.  West is to the right and east to the left.  The point in the sky directly overhead is known as the Zenith and is shown at the upper centre of the chart.  The curved brown line across the sky towards the bottom is the Ecliptic or Zodiac.  This is the imaginary line along which the Sun, Moon and planets appear to move across the sky.  The constellations through which the ecliptic passes are known as the constellations of the ‘Zodiac’.

Constellations through which the ecliptic passes this month are: Pisces (the Fishes), Aries (the Ram), Taurus (the Bull), Gemini (the Twins), Cancer (the Crab), Leo (the Lion) and just coming on to the chart in the east is Virgo (the Virgin).

The Milky Way (our Galaxy) appears to rise up from the western horizon through the Summer Triangle and Cygnus.  It continues up through Cassiopeia then down towards the East through Perseus and Auriga.  It then continues down through the constellations of Gemini, Orion, Monoceros and Puppis at the bottom of the chart.  As the galaxy is like a disc and our Sun is inside it, we see the billions of stars it is composed of as a band of light across the night sky.

Uranus is located in the constellation of Pisces and it can be seen as a small disc using a beginner’s telescope with a magnification of 100x or more.  It is now moving towards the western horizon.  There are no other planets visible in the evening sky this month.  Mercury, Venus and Neptune are too close to the Sun to be seen.  Mars Jupiter and Saturn are early morning objects rising in the east before the Sun rises.

Strangely there will not be a Full Moon this month.  There was one on 31st January and with February being a short month the next will be on 2nd March.  This also means January and March both have two Full Moons.

Sitting astride the ecliptic in the south is the constellation of Taurus (the Bull).  The Taurus asterism (shape) looks like a squashed cross ‘X’.  At the centre of the cross is a large, faint Open Cluster called the Hyades.  It has the bright Red Giant star Aldebaran at its centre.  The real beauty of Taurus is the naked eye Open Cluster M45 the Pleiades (Seven Sisters).  Another interesting object for those with a telescope is Messier 1 (M1) the Crab Nebula.  This is a Supernova Remnant (a giant star that exploded seven thousand years ago and was seen by astronomers in the year 1054AD.

To the north of M45 (the Pleiades cluster in Taurus) is a line of stars defining the constellation of Perseus.  The whole asterism (shape) of Perseus looks like a horse rider’s stirrup.  At the top of the line of stars is the beautiful object ‘the Double Cluster’ best seen using binoculars.

Above and linked to the constellation of Taurus by the star Elnath is the constellation of Auriga (the Charioteer).  The shape of the ‘stick figure’ of Auriga is like a misshapen pentagon.  The brightest star in Auriga is the beautiful bright white star Capella.  It is the sixth brightest star in the night sky.  Auriga has three Messier Open Clusters: M36, M37 and M38.  They appear to form a straight line through Auriga which also appears to continue on in line to M35 in Gemini.

To the south of Taurus is the magnificent constellation of Orion (the Hunter).  He has a distinct line of three stars depicting his belt with a line of fainter stars tracing out a sword appearing to hang from his belt.  Orion was the constellation of the month in the January magazine.

Leo (the Lion) is just moving into prominence in the evening sky and does actually resemble the lion it represents.  It does look like a lion resting and also resembles the Sphinx in Egypt.

Follow this link to see the full ‘Monthly What’s Up’ guide to the night sky:

http://naasbeginners.co.uk/Whats_up/2017_2018/February2018.htm

To see a full version of this article and a guide to the night sky with charts, read the Newbury Astronomical Society (NAS) – Monthly Magazine for Beginners on the NAS website or come along to the next Beginners meeting on 21st February 2018, for details click on the link below.

For details visit the NAS website at: www.naasbeginners.co.uk

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