This is the Skywatch Line for Monday and Tuesday, February 18th and 19th.
The Sun sets at 5:30 PM; night falls at 7:05. Dawn begins at 5:12 AM and ends with Sunrise at 6:47.
The early evening western horizon contains two planet pairs, each with a bright and a dim planet. The first pair occupies Aquarius. Mercury shines with minus 1st magnitude, appears about 80% illuminated, about 6 arc-seconds in size and about 8º above the western horizon. About a half-degree away, much dimmer Neptune shines with 8th magnitude and is a tiny 2 arc-seconds in size. Both set by 6:47 PM. Binoculars are recommended.
The second pair is high due South in Aries. Mars glows with first magnitude, appears about 90% lit and about 5 arc-seconds in size; its distinctive red tint easily identifies it. About 4º to Mars’ upper right is dimmer Uranus, which shines with 5th magnitude and apparently a bit smaller. In telescopes, Uranus sports a blue-green color. Both set by 10:56 PM.
The Moon inhabits Leo on both nights. Monday’s Moon is nearly “full” about 15º above the eastern horizon, rises at 4:24 PM and is best observed at 11:47 PM. Tuesday’s Full Snow Blinding Moon rises at 5:42 PM. This Full Moon is the closest to the Earth for the year – 221,681 miles. Coastal communities can experience very high tides.
Dawn brings three new planets to the scene. First to rise is Jupiter, in Ophiuchus, at 2:45 AM. The giant planet shimmers with minus 2nd magnitude is a large 35 arc-seconds in size and is 18º above the eastern horizon at Dawn.
Constellation Sagittarius houses Saturn and Venus. Saturn is the second to rise at 4:36 AM, shining with zero magnitude and appearing about 5º high. Venus, about 1º from Saturn, rises at 4:34 AM, blazes with minus 4th magnitude, and appears about 70% lit. We have been following Venus’ descent for several weeks, and this is its closest conjunction with Saturn. Both should fit in the same binocular or low power telescope field.
Two comets inhabit our sky, but observations may be degraded by the Full Moon’s brilliance. Comet Wirtanen still occupies the Great Bear’s Head in Ursa Major. It is now fading to 8.5 magnitude. Comet Iwamoto shines with 7th magnitude close to the first magnitude star Castor, in Gemini. Finder charts are available from various online astronomy websites.
The Albany Area Amateur Astronomers hold their monthly meeting on Thursday, February 21st at 7:30 PM. Dr Jennifer Carter, of Union College, will be guest speaker. Her topic will be “The Search for Life.” A few short years ago, such a topic would be considered science fiction. However, recent discoveries made serious such discussions because of numerous exoplanets displaying the potential for having life. Dr. Carter is a Visiting Assistant Professor. She is interested mainly in astrophysics, but also in studying advanced techniques for characterizing and detecting exoplanets. All club events are free and the public is welcome.