ASTRONOMY GUIDE TO THE NIGHT SKY – February 2021
The chart above shows the night sky at 20:00 on 15th February 2021
Click on the chart to enlarge and click to the side of the chart to close
The chart above shows the night sky looking south at about 20:00 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 (in red) at the upper centre of the chart. The curved brown line across the sky at 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 brightest stars often appear to form a group or recognisable pattern; we call these ‘Constellations’.
Constellations through which the ecliptic passes this month are Aquarius (the Water Carrier), Pisces (the Fishes), Aries (the Ram), Taurus (the Bull), Gemini (the Twins), Cancer (the Crab), Leo (the Lion) and Virgo (the Virgin).
Close to the south western horizon is the constellation of Pisces (the Fishes). Pisces is a little faint and indistinct but it is easy to find this month because the bright and orange planet Mars is located within its boundaries.
Prominent in the south west in the early evening is the constellation of Pegasus (the Winged Horse). The main feature of Pegasus is the square formed by the four brightest stars. This asterism (shape) is known as the Great Square of Pegasus. The square is larger than might be expected but once found is easier to find again. Attached to the star at the top left of the Great Square is the ‘>’ shape of Andromeda. Andromeda contains the only ‘naked eye’ galaxy Messier 31 (M31). It is visible as a small ‘fuzzy’ patch of light using binoculars.
High in the south is the constellation of Taurus (the Bull). The most obvious star in Taurus is the lovely Red Giant Star called Aldebaran. It appears slightly orange to the ‘naked eye’ but it is very obviously orange when seen using binoculars or a telescope. Aldebaran is located at the centre of the ‘flattened’ X shape formed by the brightest stars in Taurus. At the end of the top right (upper west) arm of the ‘X’ is the beautiful ‘naked eye’ Open Star Cluster Messier 45 (M45) known as the Pleiades (or the Seven Sisters). It really does look magnificent using binoculars.
Following Taurus is the constellation of Gemini (the Twins). The two brightest stars in Gemini are Castor and Pollux and they are named after mythological twins. To the north of Taurus is the odd pentagon shape of Auriga (the Charioteer). Dominating Auriga is the brilliant white star Capella which is almost directly overhead. For those with a telescope there is a line of lovely open clusters to search out in Taurus and Auriga. These are M35 in Taurus and M36, M37 and M38 in Auriga.
To the east (left) of Gemini is the rather indistinct constellation of Cancer (the Crab). The stars of Cancer are quite faint and can be difficult to discern especially in a light polluted sky. It is really worth searching out Cancer using binoculars or a telescope to see the Open Cluster M44 (the Beehive Cluster). M44 is older and further away than M45 (the Seven Sisters) so is fainter than M45 but still looks lovely. It has a group of stars that resemble an old straw Beehive with bees around it.
To the south of Taurus and Gemini is the spectacular constellation of Orion (the Hunter). Orion is one of the best known constellations and hosts some of the most interesting objects for us amateur astronomers to seek out. Orion is in the southern sky this month and very easy to find. He can be seen on the chart above with the conspicuous line of three stars that represent his belt. Above the belt there is a large misshapen pentagon depicting his upper body and shoulders. He has one arm holding a shield on the right (west) and the other arm above his head holding a club. The line of stars below his belt represent his his sword and contains the famous Orion Nebula (M42). Orion is the constellation of the month detailed in the Magazine and What’s Up this month.
The Milky Way (our Galaxy) flows down through the ‘W’ shape of Cassiopeia in the high North West. Then down through Auriga, between Taurus and Gemini and on down through Orion to the South Eastern horizon.
Follow this link to see the full ‘Monthly What’s Up’ guide to the night sky:
To see a full version of this article and a guide to the night sky with charts, read the Newbury Astronomical Society (NAS) – Monthly Magazines for Beginners on the Beginners website at: www.naasbeginners.co.uk.
All meetings of the Newbury Astronomical Society have been cancelled due to the Coronavirus. However virtual meetings will continue on-line using Zoom. Check the website above.