Feb 13

Sky Report: February 14 – February 20

Bright moonlight compromises stargazing this week. The moon doesn’t pass close to anything that would make an interesting conjunction, so it’ll be a slow week for stargazers.

There is some interest in the morning sky where you can see three planets. Venus is the only one that is obvious, and it is obvious, shining as the brilliant “Morning Star” in the southeast. Telescopically Venus is a thick crescent very slowly growing thicker by the day. It’s also rising earlier each morning until late March.

Notice that Venus doesn’t twinkle as the stars do. Stars twinkle because their extremely narrow beams of light are distorted as they pass through layers of our atmosphere that are different temperatures, and the beams are refracted by slightly different amounts. We see this continuously changing refraction as rapid twinkling. The beam of light coming from Venus is much thicker, because Venus appears larger in our sky, and the continuously refracting beams of light cause Venus to be blurry as seen through a telescope. In general the planets don’t twinkle when the stars do, and you can check this out for yourself.

For an interesting article on Venus in various cultures, Google “Venus in Culture” and go to the Wikipedia website. You’ll learn, for example, about very precise Maya observations of Venus and that the Pawnee Indians of the Great Plains sacrificed a young girl to the Morning Star; the last sacrifice was as late as 1838.

Mars is 6° – the width of three fingers held at arm’s length – to the lower right of Venus at the 5:00 position. Mars is only 1/100th as bright as Venus but perhaps its subtle orange color will help give it away. It’s the brightest “star” in that region of the sky, which happens to be Sagittarius.

Mercury is about 16° to the lower left of Venus, at the 7:00 position. Mercury is brighter than any nearby star, but it’s so low you’ll want to use binoculars. Mercury is as far from the sun, angle-wise, as it will come, which is 26°, on the 16th, so you have a fair chance to see it. Next week Mercury begins to move around to the far side of the sun and by month’s end we’ll lose it.

Jupiter and Saturn are behind the sun. Saturn reappears first and it’ll be very close to Mercury on March 2nd (mark your calendar).

Thanks to a 2021 grant from the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development and the Kane County Office of Tourism, Stellar Vista Observatory offers portable telescopes and tripod mounted binocular kits on loan for free to all residents of Kane County. Nothing beats a quality binocular or astronomical telescope to enhance enjoyment of the night sky!

Visit https://stellarvistaobservatory.org/discover-the-night-sky/ or Kanab City Library for full details.

The Sky Report is presented as a public service by the Stellar Vista Observatory, a nonprofit organization based in Kanab, Utah, which provides opportunities for people to observe, appreciate, and comprehend our starry night sky. Additional information is at www.stellarvistaobservatory.org. Send questions and comments to John@StargazingAdventures.org.

About the Author:

John Mosley was Program Supervisor of the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles for 27 years and is the author of “Stargazing for Beginners” and “Stargazing with Binoculars and Telescopes”. He and his wife live in St. George where he continues to stargaze from his retirement home while serving on the advisory committee for Stellar Vista Observatory.

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