This is Dudley Observatory’s Skywatch Line for Wednesday and Thursday, February 7 and 8, 2024, written by Alan French.
The Sun rises at 7:04 A.M. on Wednesday and sets at 5:16 P.M. On Thursday it rises at 7:02 and sets at 5:17. This Thursday has 17 minutes 19 seconds more daylight than last Thursday.
The Moon reached last quarter this past Friday and is now headed toward new, which it will reach at 5:59 P.M. on Friday.
With dark, moonless skies and some clear weather, now is a good time to revisit the prime winter constellations, now well placed in the south around 8:00 P.M.
The most distinctive and obvious star pattern toward the south around 8:00 P.M. is Orion, the Hunter. Three equally bright stars neatly spaced in a row mark his belt. A pair of stars above mark the hunter’s shoulders, and a pair below his knees. The star to the lower right,
Rigel, marking his left knee, and the star to the upper left, Betelgeuse, marking his right shoulder, are brightest. Rigel is the seventh brightest star in the night sky and Betelgeuse is the ninth. To the eye Betelgeuse is distinctly orange.
Below Orion’s belt you will see three stars that outline his sword. The middle one may look a little fuzzy by eye. The stars there are enveloped in a cloud of gas and dust, a stellar nursery, known at the Orion Nebula. Binoculars will show it better, and it is nice in even a modest telescope under dark skies.
If you imagine a line extending along the belt stars to the southeast (lower left), you will come to Sirius, the brightest star in the nigh sky and the luminary of Canis Major, the Big Dog. Extending the line along the belt to the upper right, you will come to another orangish
star, Aldebaran, the brightest star in Taurus, the Bull. It is the thirteenth brightest star in the night sky.
Well above Orion, essentially at the zenith, is Capella, the brightest member of a rough pentagon of stars outlining Auriga, the Charioteer. Capella lies at number 6 on our list of brightest stars.
Below and left of Capella, down toward the eastern horizon, you will spot a pair of equally bright stars, Castor and Pollux, the luminaries of Gemini, the Twins. Castor is closest to Capella. If you imagine a line connecting Pollux and Sirius, the bright star roughly halfway along it, but displaced toward the southeast, is Procyon, the brightest star in Canis Minor, the Little Dog.