Sky at a Glance Feb. 10 – 17

Photo showing the constellation Cancer the Crab and locations of M44 and M67

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, February 10 – 17  ~by Curt Nason

The most inconspicuous of the zodiac constellations is faint Cancer the Crab, which is nestled between Gemini and Leo. In mythology the crab was sent by the goddess Hera to distract Hercules while he was battling the Hydra. The crab was no match for the strongman’s stomp. Ancient Egyptians saw it as their sacred dung beetle, the scarab. In the first millennium BC the Sun was in Cancer at the summer solstice, the time when it halts its northward motion and slowly starts heading south. This back and forth motion of the rising and setting Sun on the horizon was perhaps reminiscent of a crab sidling on a beach. The summer solstice is now situated above the foot of Castor in Gemini.

Cancer is recognized by a trapezoid of dim naked eye stars as the crab’s body, with a couple of other stars representing the claws. The four stars were also seen as a manger flanked by a pair of donkeys, Asellus Borealis and Asellus Australis. On a clear dark night we can see a hazy patch of hay within the manger, and binoculars reveal it as a beautiful star cluster called the Beehive, Praesepe or M44. Being near the ecliptic, the planets often pass through or near this cluster masquerading as a bright guest star. The Beehive was once used to forecast storms, for if it could not be seen it was hidden by light clouds at the front of a weather system. Binoculars can reveal another star cluster, M67, less than a fist-width south of M44.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:29 am and sunset will occur at 5:37 pm, giving 10 hours, 8 minutes of daylight (7:32 am and 5:44 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:18 am and set at 5:48 pm, giving 10 hours, 30 minutes of daylight (7:22 am and 5:54 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is near Saturn on Sunday morning and it is new on Thursday. Jupiter and Mars are well-placed in the south for morning observing, while Saturn can be found to their lower left above the lid of the Sagittarius Teapot asterism. Mars is within a binocular width above the orange supergiant star Antares, in the heart of Scorpius. Mars was the Roman god of war, Ares was the Greek counterpart. The name Antares means “rival of Mars” due to the star’s similar colour and sometimes similar brightness of the planet. Mercury and Venus will be visible after sunset in the west before the end of the month. The International Space Station makes at least one evening pass between 6 pm and 8 pm until Tuesday. Check out the Heavens Above website for the times after setting your location.

The William Brydone Jack Astronomy Club meets on Tuesday at 7 pm in the UNB Forestry – Earth Sciences Building in Fredericton. The provincial astronomy club, RASC NB, meets on Saturday, February 17 at 1 pm in the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

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