Skywatch Line for Wednesday, February 22nd, and Thursday, February 23rd, 2017

This is the Dudley Observatory Skywatch Line for Wednesday, February 22nd, and Thursday, February 23rd, written by Louis Suarato.

The 15% illuminated, waning crescent Moon sets at 1:48 p.m. Wednesday and rises at 4:40 a.m. Thursday, as an 11% illuminated crescent. Saturn, in the constellation Ophiuchus, in the southeast, and Jupiter, in Virgo, in the southwest, join the Moon in Thursday’s early morning sky. Thursday, Jupiter will pass just 4 degrees north of Virgo’s brightest star, Spica. The easily visible evening planets are Mars and Venus, above the western horizon, in the constellation Pisces. Look 3 degrees to the upper left of Mars for bluish-green Uranus. Binoculars will help see this distant gas giant. On February 26th, Mars and Uranus will be separated by less than one degree.

While you have your binoculars in hand, take some time to look at the Andromeda Galaxy, between the three planets and Cassiopeia, but closer to Cassiopeia, and about 40 degrees above the western horizon. Look about 20 degrees above the Andromeda Galaxy for the Double Cluster. The Double Cluster resides in the constellation Perseus, next to Cassiopeia. This pair of open star clusters are separated by a few hundred light-years, and are approximately 7,500 light-years away. Unlike the stars in the Pleiades, which contain stars ranging from 75 million to 150 million years old, the stars within the Double Cluster are relatively young, estimated to be about 12.8 million years of age. Each cluster contains a few hundred supergiant suns. Continue to use your binoculars, and scan over the southern horizon to view the Great Orion Nebula. You’ll find this fuzzy looking star factory a few degrees below Orion’s belt. Documented by French astronomer Nicolas-Claude Fabris de Peiresc in 1610, The Great Orion Nebula may have been mentioned by the ancient Mayans, and Ptolemy. A telescopic view of this nebula will reveal a small cluster of bright stars at its center, known as the Trapezium. This close, group of young stars are responsible for illuminating the nebulosity surrounding them.

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