Skywatch Line for Wednesday, February 7th, and Thursday, February 8th, 2018

This is the Dudley Observatory Skywatch Line for Wednesday, February 7th, and Thursday, February 8th, written by Louis Suarato.

The Last Quarter phase of the Moon occurs Wednesday at 10:54 a.m. EST. The Moon will set 13 minutes later. When the Moon rises again at 1:16 a.m. as a waning crescent, it will be positioned between Jupiter, above, and Mars, below. Jupiter and the Moon will occupy the constellation Libra, while Mars will be in Scorpius. Saturn rises at 4:35 a.m. in Sagittarius, above the Teapot asterism. The Moon will be 4 degrees to the left of Mars overnight Friday. Asteroid Vesta, at magnitude 7.65, will be 3 degrees to the left of the Moon.

Asteroid Vesta, also designated minor planet 4 Vesta, is one of the largest objects in the asteroid belt with an average diameter of 326 miles. Discovered by Heinrich Wilhelm Olbers on March 29, 1807, is second only to asteroid Ceres in size. Olbers was part of what was known as the Celestial Police whose mission it was to find a missing planet between Mars and Jupiter. Vesta is the brightest asteroid, with a maximum distance from the Sun less than Ceres’ minimum distance. Vesta orbits the Sun once every 3.63 years. Like our Moon, Vesta has light and dark surface areas, craters, and evidence that lava once flowed over its surface. NASA’s Dawn spacecraft visited Vesta in 2011 and provided a complete map of the asteroid.

Thursday night, at 7:03 p.m., look low over the northwestern horizon to see an extremely bright, -2.7 magnitude, International Space Station rise and head toward the southeast. The ISS will emerge out of the Milky Way in Cygnus, and pass below Cassiopeia, before disappearing into Earth’s shadow over Polaris in the Little Dipper.

Comet C/2016 R2 (PANSTARRS) is currently 10th magnitude. Use a telescope to locate this comet in the constellation Taurus before the Moon rises. The comet is just 2 degrees east of the Pleiades star cluster.

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