Skywatch Line for Wednesday, February 10th and Thursday, February 11th, 2016

This is the Dudley Observatory Skywatch Line for Wednesday, February 10th and Thursday, February 11th written by Louis Suarato

The 8% illuminated, waxing crescent Moon sets around 8 p.m. Thursday night at the lower end of the constellation Pisces. The Moon reaches perigee, its closest distance to Earth during this lunar cycle, at 9:41 p.m. EST Wednesday. At that time, the Moon will be 226,403 miles from Earth. Since this perigee occurs only two days from the New Moon phase, expect higher, and lower, than normal tides. Jupiter, the first of the naked-eye visible planets to rise, appears over the eastern horizon thirteen minutes before the Moon sets. Thursday night, two of Jupiter’s Galilean moons and their shadows cross the planet. Europa’sshadow crosses the face of the gas giant from 9:02 to 11:51 p.m. EST, followed by Europa itself from 10:51 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. EST. Io’s shadow transit begins at 12:51 a.m. EST, Followed by Io at 1:26 a.m. EST. Io’s shadow transit ends at 3:06 a.m. and Io’s transit ends at 3:40 a.m., Friday. Io completes four orbits, and Europa completes two orbits in the same time that Ganymede completes one orbit around Jupiter. Callisto, the outermost of the Galilean moons, at about 1,168,000 miles, takes about seven Earth days to complete one orbit around the planet. 

The constellation above Jupiter is Leo, with its brightest star, Regulus. The two inner stars of the Big Dipper’s bowl,  Megrezand Phecda, point to Regulus. A precursor to Spring, the constellation Leo raises its head higher in the evening sky as the vernal equinox approaches. Mars, the next naked-eye visible planet to rise, appears about 45 minutes after midnight. Mars continues to grow in brightness and apparent diameter this month. By the end of the month, Mars will be 0.3 magnitude and increase to an apparent diameter of  8.6″. Saturn rises next at 2:49 a.m. in Scorpius. Saturn and Mars are moving toward each other, and the gap between them closes from 26 degrees to 18 degrees during the month. Next up is Venus at 5:30 a.m.,followed by Mercury 15 minutes later. Try to catch the two innermost planets before Mercury gets lost in the Sun’s glow toward month’s end. 

The 2016 Albany Area Amateur Astronomers Star Party Schedule has been posted! Mark your calendars and we look forward to seeing you there! The schedule can be found here: http://dudleyobservatory.org/AAAA/star-party-schedule/

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