This is the Skywatch Line for Monday and Tuesday, February 5th and 6th.
The Sun sets at 5:14 PM; night falls at 6:50. Dawn begins at 5:28 AM and ends with the Sun rising at 7:04.
Twilight begins with the continuing drought of bright planets. Eighth magnitude Neptune remains situated in Aquarius near the bright star Hydor and sets at 7:24 PM. Brighter Uranus is stationed in Pisces, near the star Mu Piscium; it sets at 11:01 PM. Dwarf Planet 1Ceres also rose this afternoon in Leo. Located above the Lion’s nose, the 7th magnitude solar system member appears a tiny 0.7 arc-seconds in our telescopes; it is best observed around Midnight. All three require detailed finder charts from astronomical media.
February is a strange month for Moon watchers. There will be no “Full Moon” this month. Why? The period from Full Moon to Full Moon takes 29.5 days; normally, February has only 28 days. Remember, January 31st was not only a Full Moon, it was also a Blue Moon and eclipsed by Earth’s shadow. The next Full Moon will occur on March 1st. The Moon rises in Virgo at 11:15 PM Monday, blazing at minus 10.4 magnitude and appearing about 2/3s full; it is best viewed at 5 AM, Tuesday. Wednesday’s Moon rises at 12:17 AM in Libra, slightly dimmer and about half lit; it is best viewed at 5:46 AM.
Jupiter rises in Libra at 1:11 AM, shines at minus 2nd magnitude and is best studied at 6:08 AM. Jupiter appears about 18 degrees below Monday’s Moon and 6 degrees from Wednesday’s. With Jupiter rising ever earlier, observers can now study the motions of its Galilean moons. At 1:39 AM on Tuesday, the moon Europa exits the face of the giant planet; at 2:47 AM, Ganymede disappears behind Jupiter and reappears at 4:36 AM.
Mars is the next to rise in Scorpius at 2:28 AM. The Red Planet shines with first magnitude and appears about 90 percent illuminated. Notice Mars during the coming months. It steadily becomes brighter and apparently speeds up in preparation for its July Opposition. Mars lies about 15 degrees below Jupiter and 6 degrees above the bright star Antares.
Mars is also about 28 degrees above Saturn, which rises in Sagittarius at 4:39 AM. The Ringed Planet glows with 0.6 magnitude. However, it is quite low on the southeastern horizon, and may require binoculars to see it amid the brightening sky.
The constellation Canis Major rises at about 7:00 PM tonight to Orion’s lower left. The constellation houses the brightest star visible to our skies, Sirius, the “Dog Star”. Although the word “sirius” means, “scorching,” ancients connected the constellation and star with a dog. Sirius is a blue-white double star, larger and hotter than our Sun. It is the closest star visible to northern latitudes, and the fifth closest star to Earth. Since the star is visible in summer, the term “Dog Days” is associated with hot weather; ancient people thought the star’s brilliance added to the already stifling heat. Egyptians worshiped Sirius because its rising mean the Nile’s life-giving waters would soon surge to irrigate the land and guarantee bountiful crops.