ASTRONOMY GUIDE TO THE NIGHT SKY – February 2022

Astronomy

ASTRONOMY GUIDE TO THE NIGHT SKY – February 2022

With the Newbury Astronomical Society

The chart above shows the night sky at 21:00 on 15th February 2022

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 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 (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).

The southern sky is now dominated by 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 called Messier 45 (M45) also 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 south of Taurus is the winter constellation of Orion (the Hunter) that dominates the southern night sky.  Orion is easily found by looking for his very obvious three stars of his belt.  As he is so easy to find it is a good place to start exploring the sky.  Orion has his Hunting Dogs Sirius (the big dog) and Procyon (the little dog) to the east (left) and following him.  Orion was featured as constellation of the month in the January magazine.

To the east (right) of Taurus 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.

The constellation of Leo (the Lion) follows Cancer along the Ecliptic and will be the constellation of the month next month.  It does actually look a little like a lion or the Sphinx in Egypt.  Around and between Leo and the neighboring constellation of Virgo is a cluster of galaxies.  Our Milky Way galaxy and our local group of galaxies are members of this larger group of galaxies called the Virgo Cluster.  A medium sized telescope (150mm to 200mm) and a dark sky is required to see these faint objects.

The Ecliptic was low in the sky during the summer months but now it appears high in the night sky so the Moon and planets also appear high.  Neptune, Saturn, Jupiter, Venus and Mercury have now moved over the western horizon and out of view in the evening but are now moving into the very early morning sky.  Uranus is still well placed for those who are fortunate enough to have access to a telescope.  Mars is still located on the other side of the Sun so it appears small, close to the Sun and difficult to see.

Where to find the planets this month

Mercury will be visible low in the west and will be at greatest elongation on 16th February.

Venus will be in the eastern sky at sunrise after its conjunction with the Sun on 9th January.

Mars is very close to the Sun and appears very small as it is on the other side of the Sun.

Jupiter is very bright in the south west during the early evening but setting at about 18:30.

Saturn is in conjunction with the Sun on 4th February so will not be observable.

Uranus can be found in the south east in the early evening but really needs a telescope.

Neptune is located in the south but will setting over the western horizon at 19:30.

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

http://naasbeginners.co.uk/Whats_up/2021_2022/Febuary2021.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 Magazines for Beginners on the Beginners website at: www.naasbeginners.co.uk.

The next Meeting of the Newbury Astronomical Society – Beginners Section will be a ‘face to face’ meeting at Stockcross Village Hall.  However virtual meetings will continue on-line using Zoom.  Please check on the Beginners website above for the latest information.

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