Feb 19

Sky Report: February 21 – February 27

There are no bright planets in the evening sky (just Uranus, which is barely visible in binoculars) but Venus is brilliant in the morning sky and Mars is nearby. It’s still winter and the sun still rises late, so it’s not hard to spot them before breakfast.

Venus is the brilliant “Morning Star” that rises 2½ hours before the sun and is ¼ of the way up the eastern sky in late morning twilight. It remains in roughly the same position with respect to the sun until mid-summer, when it begins to move back closer to the sun, so we have several months to enjoy it in morning twilight. During those months it’ll be close, in turn, to Mars and Saturn, and very close to Jupiter, so if you’re up early and have a clear eastern horizon there will be plenty to watch for.

This week Mars is 5° to the lower right of Venus, at the 5 o’clock position, and you can see both together in most binoculars. Mars is only 100th as bright as Venus because Mars is 4 times farther away, has ¼ the surface area, and is half as reflective. Still, Mars is almost as bright as the brighter stars. Mars is presently on the far side of the sun, but it will be brighter than any star when it’s closest to earth in December.

The waning crescent moon joins Venus and Mars on the mornings of the 26th and 27th; on the 26th it’s to their right, and on the 27th it’s directly below Mars (and very close to the horizon).

On the morning of the 24th the bright red star 4½° to the right of the moon is Antares, the “Rival of Mars” for its color, the brightest star in Scorpius and a star that is slightly brighter than Mars. You can see both together in binoculars – which every stargazer must have.

If your sky is dark, notice that Venus and Mars bracket the Milky Way, which runs diagonally between them. This part of the Milky Way is the brightest and widest part because we’re looking in the direction of the Milky Way’s center. Contrast with the Milky Way you see in the evening sky, near Orion, when we’re looking away from its center and which consequently is both fainter and narrower. On these long winter nights you can see and compare both sides.

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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