This Week’s Sky at a Glance, February 17 – 24 ~by Curt Nason
Binoculars are great instruments for observing the brighter star clusters and nebulae in the night sky, and Orion is a great place for binocular treasures. Its most prominent naked eye feature is the angled line of three stars that make Orion’s Belt. This trio will fit easily within almost any binocular view. They are hot giant stars, with the one on the right, Mintaka, being a little dimmer than Alnitak on the left and Alnilam in between. Although they appear to be near each other, at a distance of 1300 light years Alnilam is more than 400 light years farther than the other two. Between Alnilam and Mintaka binoculars will show an S-shaped asterism, Orion’s S, which peeks above his belt as if he were a stereotypical plumber.
Below the belt is a string of a few dimmer stars that makes Orion’s sword, one of which looks fuzzy to the eye. Binoculars reveal this to be the Orion Nebula or M42, a vast cloud of gas and dust where stars are forming. Just above the nebula is an asterism that resembles a person running or perhaps the figure in a WALK sign. Several double or multiple stars can be seen in this general area. Binoculars will also enhance star colours so check out Orion’s two brightest stars, blue Rigel and orange Betelgeuse. Defocussing slightly will enhance the colours even more.
This Week in the Solar System
Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:18 am and sunset will occur at 5:48 pm, giving 10 hours, 30 minutes of daylight (7:22 am and 5:54 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:07 am and set at 5:58 pm, giving 10 hours, 51 minutes of daylight (7:10 am and 6:04 pm in Saint John).
The Moon is at first quarter on Friday, February 23, and sword-like Rupes Recta, a 110 km long fault known as the Straight Wall, will be visible in a telescope that evening just below the Moon’s middle. Jupiter rises by 1 am early in the week and is well-placed for morning observing. Saturn shines in the southeast above the lid of the Sagittarius Teapot asterism at 6 am, and by midweek orange Mars will be halfway between Saturn and Jupiter. Mercury is at superior conjunction this weekend but it will be seen near Venus in the evening sky early next month.
The provincial astronomy club, RASC NB, meets on Saturday, February 17 at 1 pm at the Cherry Brook Zoo in Saint John. All are welcome. Also, on the evening of February 17, RASC NB members are co-hosting the Kouchibouguac Winter Stargaze. See the Kouchibouguac National Park website for more information on the observing location and obtaining a park permit.
Questions? Contact Curt Nason.