Skywatch Line for Wednesday, February 3rd and Thursday, February 4th, 2016

The Dudley Observatory Skywatch Line for Wednesday, February 3rd and Thursday, February 4th written by Louis Suarato

Wednesday night, through overnight Thursday, the skies will remain moonless until the 20% illuminated, waning crescent Moon rises at 3:33 a.m. in the constellation Ophiuchus. Comet C/2013 US10 Catalina has passed Ursa Minor and Polaris, and is on its way to the constellation Camelopardalis. Camelopardalis is a faint constellation, and the 18th largest. Without any bright stars to use as a starting point to find Comet Catalina, I recommend using Polaris. The comet can be found about 10 degrees directly above Polaris at 9 p.m., and slowly moving to Polaris’ upper left throughout the night. Further to the left of the comet, is the Double Cluster. The Double Cluster, also known as Caldwell 14, is comprised of the naked-eye visible open clusters NGC 869 and NGC 884. These open clusters in the constellation Perseus, are about 7,500 light-years away and are estimated to be about 12.8 million years old. The Double Cluster is best viewed through binoculars or a small telescope. The two inside stars of the shallower “V” in the constellation Cassiopeia point to the Double Cluster.

The first of the five naked-eye visible planets to rise is Jupiter. Jupiter rises at 8:17 p.m. Wednesday. The Galilean moons Ganymede, Callisto, and Io will be to one side of Jupiter, and Europa will be alone on the other side, until 1:39 a.m., when Io is occulted by the solar system’s largest planet. Thursday night, beginning at 6:36 p.m., Callisto dims significantly, as it is eclipsed by Jupiter’s shadow. At about the same time, Europa’sshadow begins to transit the planet, followed by Europa an hour and a half later. Europa’s transit ends at 10:41 p.m. Thursday.

The second naked-eye visible planet to rise is Mars. Mars rises a few minutes before 1 a.m., Thursday. Mars’ brightness increases from +0.8 to +0.3 magnitude this month. Saturn rises next at 3:14 a.m., with its 26 degree angle of tilt providing a wonderful telescopic view of its rings. The crescent Moon rises at 3:38 a.m., and will be about 8 degrees to Saturn’s lower left. Venus is up next at 5:28 a.m., shining at a brilliant -3.9 magnitude. Last up is Mercury at 5:44 a.m., less than three degrees below Venus.

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