First of all, this blog is inspired by a favorite astronomy site of mine, EarthSky.org. This site is downright terrific and has graciously allowed me to use many skymaps in previous blogs as well as this one. This site is an absolutely fantastic source for all sorts of information about the field of science in general. I suggest and plead you to browse the site. They have an excellent article about how snowy owl sightings have risen dramatically in the early part of 2012 (please click here). I mention this since I am an animal lover and these are beautiful animals!
February is shaping up to be an excellent month for those who like to gaze at the nighttime sky, especially for those who like to look at our closest neighbors in the universe, the planets. Venus and Jupiter are the sky’s two most brilliant planets. They are the first “stars” to pop out at evening dusk all through February 2012, with Venus being the lower planet and Jupiter the higher. Use the moon to verify that you’ve found Venus in late February, as the thin lunar crescent passes close to Venus on the evenings of Feb. 24th through the 26th. Jupiter is out from dusk to about midnight. It rises in the east and sets in the west.
Mars will be spectacular this month. Mars will become extremely noticeable in our sky in February, more noticeable than it’s been for the last two years. In the early part of the month, the red planet rises in the east around 8 to 9 p.m. local time, about the same time that Venus sets in the west. By midmonth, look for Mars to rise at nightfall. And at the end of the month, watch for Mars to rise around sunset and to shine all night long.
The fourth visible planet is Saturn. It rises around midnight early in the month and a few hours sooner later in the month. Use the moon to be sure you’ve identified Saturn and to see the beautiful pairing of the waning gibbous moon with Saturn and the star Spica at late night on Feb. 11 or before dawn on Feb. 12.
The Moon, Saturn and Spica late evening on Saturday, Feb. 11
Mercury, the innermost planet of the solar system, will be visible in the evening sky during the last week of February. Look for this world near the sunset point on the horizon about 45 to 75 minutes after sunset.
An imaginary line drawn from Jupiter through Venus shows you the moon and Mercury on Friday, Feb. 24
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A late-week warmup will make it a little easier to do some stargazing later this week. A meteor shower is just around the corner.
Tonight could be the last night to get a clear view of Mercury in the evening sky for many.