Sky at a Glance Feb 11 – 18

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, February 11 – 18  ~by Curt Nason

In springtime they say that love is in the air, but why wait? On Valentine’s Day this Tuesday, step outside with your loved one to seek out love in the night sky. Around 7 pm your eye will no doubt be drawn to a bright object in the west; none other than Venus, the Roman goddess of love. In fact you get a double shot of the goddess, for the planet is “in” the constellation Pisces the Fish. In mythology the constellation depicts Venus and her son Cupid (Aphrodite and Eros in Greek mythology). Frightened by a ferocious monster, they changed into fish as they escaped into the sea but not before tying their ankles together so they would not be separated.

To the upper left of Orion is Gemini the Twins, the stellar personification of brotherly love. Pollux, the brighter of the constellation’s two “head” stars, was fathered by Zeus, and Castor was fathered by King Tyndareus of Sparta. Queen Leda was their mother. The boys were inseparable throughout life, and when Castor was killed immortal Pollux begged Zeus to allow him to die as well. Zeus compromised, allowing them to spend half the year together. Orion himself is smitten with one the Pleiades, but the sisters feared him and asked Zeus to place a bull in the sky to protect them. Had Orion carried flowers instead of a club he would have been less intimidating. The much photographed Rosette Nebula is nearby in the constellation Monoceros the Unicorn. Another much photographed object, the Heart Nebula, lies hidden in Cassiopeia. You won’t see either by stargazing, so Google them.

After stargazing with your sweetheart on Valentine’s Day it is almost as delightful to go back inside to warm up together. Have fun.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:28 am and sunset will occur at 5:40 pm, giving 10 hours, 12 minutes of daylight (7:31 am and 5:46 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:17 am and set at 5:50 pm, giving 10 hours, 33 minutes of daylight (7:20 am and 5:56 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is full on Friday, February 10, with the added attraction of a subtle penumbral eclipse. A light gray shadow might be detectable between 8 and 9:30 pm. The Moon is at third quarter on February 18 and Venus is at its greatest brilliance on February 17. Look for orange Mars about 8 degrees to its upper left. Saturn is high enough in the southeast for decent observing by morning twilight, as is Jupiter in the southwest. At 11:26 pm on Sunday, using a scope or steady binoculars you might catch Ganymede, the largest moon in the solar system, emerging from Jupiter’s shadow. Starting midweek you have a two-week period to see the ghostly zodiacal light along the western ecliptic an hour after sunset. You will need a clear sky with no light pollution.

The annual Irving Nature Park snowshoe hike and telescope observing occurs at 7 pm on Friday, February 10 at the Sheldon’s Point barn in Saint John. Visit the park Web site for details. The William Brydone Jack Astronomy Club meets on Tuesday at 7 pm in Room 203 of the UNB Forestry / Earth Sciences Building in Fredericton.

Questions? You can contact Curt Nason here.

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