The Sky In Feburary 2016

As they have in January, the planets continue their dance with the moon in February. Beginning on the morning of Feb 1st and 2nd the moon is close to Mars in Libra, just a few finger widths away. It is worth noting that Mars is returning to bright prominence again now as it approaches Opposition in May. Mars Also reaches “Western Quadrature” being at a 90deg angle between the Earth and Sun. At this point Mars displays its minimum 90 % Phase, a factor noticeable through a telescope. On the 4th it is Saturn’s turn to be close to the Waning crescent moon at Aprox. 3 finger widths away. The dance continues with Mercury and Venus having their turn on the 7th just 4 Degrees or a hand width away from the moon.
Jupiter has well and truly returned to our evening sky in February rising around 9pm in Leo, at the beginning of the month and soon after 7 pm at months end, moving in its slow retrograde motion. If you have a telescope (even a small one) you will be able to see Jupiter’s moons. If you have a larger scope you can watch the moons themselves and their shadows transit Jupiter.

A rare triple Transit
A rare triple Transit

This Month we get a meteor shower that is only seen in the southern Hemisphere. The Alpha Centaurids have an apparent radiant point near our nearest visible star Alpha Centauri. Typical rates are low at Aprox 6/hr, however outbursts have been known to occur of up to 30 per hour. What is stunning about this shower is the high number of bright “Fireballs” it produces. With some leaving persistent “trains”,  a trail of vaporised rock that can last from several seconds to a few minutes. The shower is active from February 2 to February 25. Peak in activity is around Feb 8th with the constellation rising at approximately 10pm but at its best (highest in the sky) in the hours before dawn.
Finally, make sure you mark your diary for March the 9th for the partial SOLAR eclipse visible in a line north from Perth to Rockhampton, (or Total if you want to fly to Indonesia !) but more on that next newsletter !
You can find out more about the night sky with your own Copy of Astronomy 2016 (The Astronomers essential handbook for over 25 years), see a Planetarium Show (Sundays) , look through telescopes & Binoculars or just have a chat about all things astronomical at Night Sky Secrets store in The Pier-Cairns Far North Qld, 7 days a week.

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