Skywatch Line for Wednesday, February 24 and Thursday, February 25, 2016

This is the Dudley Observatory Skywatch Line for Wednesday, February 24th and Thursday, February 25th written by Louis Suarato

The 95% illuminated, waning gibbous Moon rises in the constellation Virgo at 7:42 p.m. Wednesday night, about an hour after Jupiter can be seen over the eastern horizon. Planet and Moon will be separated by about 13 degrees. Jupiter is approaching its peak brightness for the year as it reaches opposition, the position from our sky opposite the Sun. At that time, Jupiter will also be at its closest to Earth. As Jupiter rises on March 8th, it will be 413 million miles away. Look for Jupiter’s brightness to increase to -2.5 magnitude during that time. As Jupiter and the Moon are rising, the southern to western area of the sky will be filled with bright stars. Above the southern horizon will be Sirius, the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major, and the brightest star in our sky. The constellation Orion occupies a significant area of the sky west of Canis Major. Look for Orion’s brightest stars, Betelgeuse, at the hunter’s left shoulder, and Rigel, below the hunter’s belt. West of Orion is Taurus, and its brightest star, Aldebaran. You’ll find the Pleiades star cluster just west of Aldebaran. A wide angle camera lens, such as a15 millimeter, will enable you capture the southern to western sky, from Sirius to the Pleiades.

The last week in February and first week of March are good times to view the Zodiacal Light after evening twilight. The Zodiacal Light is a faint conical glow over the western horizon caused by sunlight reflecting off millions of particles of interplanetary cosmic dust. At its base, close to the western horizon, the Zodiacal Light is brightest, at approximately -8.5 magnitude. As the light stretches toward the zenith, it becomes much fainter. To see the Zodiacal Light, you should travel to a dark sky site away from urban, light polluted skies. Any of the Albany Area Amateur Star Party sites, such as the Landis Arboretum of Grafton Lakes State Park, would be ideal locations for viewing the Zodiacal Light.

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