This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2021 February 13 – 20 ~by Curt Nason
We are more than halfway to spring and, as Lord Tennyson wrote in his poem Locksley Hall, “in the spring a young man’s fancy turns lightly to thoughts of love.” With Valentine’s Day this weekend the goddess of love is being shy, as difficult to see as the groundhog is on a stormy February 2.
Venus is the Roman counterpart of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love. The planet Venus rises just 17 minutes before the Sun this weekend, lost in the glare of bright twilight as it moves toward superior conjunction with the Sun on March 26. Its nearness to Earth, and its thick clouds that reflect two thirds of its incident sunlight, make it the brightest planet, but the Sun is half a billion times brighter.
Venus is not the only love object in the night sky. In 1898 astronomers discovered the first asteroid that was known to come closer to the Sun than Mars, one that nearly reaches Earth’s orbit. This 33 x 11 kilometre rock was named Eros for the son of Aphrodite, and to the Romans he was known as Cupid. In mythology the Olympians were surprised at the seashore by Typhon, the most horrible monster of the rival Titans. Venus and Cupid knew they would be safe in the water, but before changing into fish they tied their feet together so they would not lose each other in the sea. This act is immortalized as the constellation Pisces, depicting two fish bound together at the tails, which is low in the west in evening twilight. Another astronomical valentine, and a favourite of astroimagers, is the Heart Nebula in Cassiopeia the Queen.
This Week in the Solar System
Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:24 am and sunset will occur at 5:42 pm, giving 10 hours, 18 minutes of daylight (7:28 am and 5:49 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:13 am and set at 5:53 pm, giving 10 hours, 40 minutes of daylight (7:17 am and 5:59 pm in Saint John).
The Moon passes near Mars on Thursday and it is at first quarter on Friday. Mars is highest at sunset this week, making for good observing in the early evening although its disc is now too small to reveal any features in a telescope. Mercury, Saturn and Jupiter make a triangle in the morning sky, rising 50 to 30 minutes before sunrise, with Venus lost in bright twilight to their lower left.
With astronomy meetings and outreach activities on hold, you can watch the local Sunday Night Astronomy Show at 8 pm and view archived shows.
Questions? Contact Curt Nason.