This is the Dudley Observatory Skywatch Line for Wednesday, February 14th, and Thursday, February 15th, written by Louis Suarato.
Wednesday morning, about 25 minutes before sunrise, look low in the southeast for the 2% illuminated, waning crescent Moon. The New Moon occurs at 4:05 p.m. EST Thursday. The appearance of easily visible planets begins after midnight beginning with Jupiter rising in the constellation Libra at 12:43 a.m.. The next planet to rise is Mars, at 2:24 a.m., in Scorpius. Saturn follows, at 4:11 a.m., in Sagittarius. Mercury and Venus are both at their greatest heliocentric latitude, and difficult to see from the northern hemisphere.
During the winter months, our view from the Orion Arm of the Milky Way looks outward and away from the center of the galaxy. Our solar system resides on the inner rim of the spiral arm, providing a view of the stars that share this part of the Milky Way. These bright stars include those that comprise the constellation Orion, for which the spiral arm is named. The Orion Arm, or Orion spur, is 3,500 light-years across, and 10,000 light-years in length. The Orion Arm is also known as the Orion-Cygnus Arm, the Local Arm, and the Orion Bridge. This section of the Milky way is between the Carina-Sagittarius Arm, which is toward the Galactic Center, and the Perseus Arm, which is beyond the Orion Arm and toward our outer galaxy. The Milky Way is faint during these winter months while we are turned away from the bright galactic center, but facing the brighter stars within the same spiral arm.
February 15th is the day each year when we celebrate the birth of Galileo. Galileo is known for many astronomical achievements, including championing the theory of heliocentricity. At a time when most believed the Earth was at the center of the universe, Galileo faced strong opposition, when he correctly stated that Earth, and other planets orbited the Sun. Celebrate Galileo’s birthday by joining the Albany Area Amateur Astronomers at miSci Thursday night beginning at 7:30 for their monthly meeting. The guest speaker will be Dr. Valerie Rapson, Outreach Astronomer for the Dudley Observatory. Dr. Rapson will discussing the hunt for exoplanets.