Night Lights: Night sky lightens up in February

By Andy Veh, for the Redoubt Reporter

Late in the evening, winter constellations, such as Taurus, Pegasus and Andromeda, have set already. But others show their glory — Orion with seven bright stars, among them red Betelgeuse and blue Rigel, Auriga with yellow Capella, Gemini with Castor and Pollux, and Procyon and Sirius in the Canis Minor and Major, both arching toward the horizon from the Twins.

Furthermore, Leo, a harbinger of spring, with Regulus in its front paw, appears high in the south. The Big Dipper is now virtually overhead, blue Vega and Cygnus with Deneb just above and the Little Dipper and Polaris, as always, 60 degrees above the northern horizon. And in the east, Bootes with red Arcturus appears.

Planets in the evening and all night: Mercury can be glimpsed around March 16, shortly after sunset in the southwest. Jupiter is visible, next to Taurus’ red giant Aldebaran and with the star cluster Pleiades nearby. It appears long into the night, moving from south to the northwest, setting around 3 a.m. It is joined by the waxing half moon March 17 and 18.

Jupiter is the brightest wanderer in the sky because Venus is in superior conjunction (on the other side of the sun), and will not be visible again until fall of this year because once it emerges from behind the sun, it’s already late spring and the evenings are too bright for too long.

Planets in the morning: Saturn is prominent in the morning sky all winter long, forming an acute triangle with Spica and red Arcturus. Look for them near the southeastern horizon. The waning half moon is close on Feb. 3.

All other planets, Mars, Uranus and Neptune, appear too close to the sun, so that they can’t be seen against the bright daytime sky.

Andy Veh is an associate professor of physics, math and astronomy at Kenai Peninsula College.

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