Skywatch Line for Friday, February 5, through Sunday, February 7, 2016

This is Dudley Observatory’s Skywatch Line for Friday, February 5, through Sunday, February 7, 2016, written by Alan French.

Approaching new, a slender old Moon graces the morning sky early this weekend. On Saturday morning at 6:15 am the Moon, Venus, and Mercury will form a compact trio above the east southeastern horizon. The Moon will be highest and almost directly above Mercury, which will be just over four degrees above the horizon. Venus will be to their right and a height midway between the two.

This lovely grouping would make a good target for photographers.

By Sunday morning the Moon will be farther south and just above the horizon at 6:15 am. By 6:30 am it will be three degrees high. If the skies near the horizon are clear it should be a pretty sight. By Monday morning the Moon will be too close to the Sun to spot.

The weekend starts with a nice pass of the International Space Station (ISS) over our area early Friday evening. The ISS looks like a very bright star as it glides across the heavens, and is brighter than any true stars when it is high in the sky. Some times will be given in hours, minutes, and seconds. I often do not spot the ISS until a little after its “first appearance,” when it is higher above the horizon. To me, its highest point in the sky also seems higher than the numbers imply. If you miss it as it rises, it’s brighter and easies to spot at its highest point.

The ISS will first appear seconds before 6:14 pm coming up from the west southwestern horizon. It will be highest at 6:17 when 54 degrees above the north northwestern horizon. It will move into the Earth’s shadow and fade from view when 17 degrees above the northeastern horizon seconds after 6:19:18.

As the ISS glides across the sky it will move up along one side of the Great Square of Pegasus, below the “W” of Cassiopeia, and above Polaris, the North Star. As it moves down toward the northeastern horizon it will pass in front of the Big Dipper’s bowl.

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