Sky at a Glance Feb 3 – 10

Photo showing the location of the constellation Hydra, the largest of 88 constellations.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, February 3 – 10 ~by Curt Nason

The constellation Hydra is the largest of the 88 and it represents a female water snake. I mention the gender because there is a male water snake constellation, Hydrus, in the southern hemisphere. A small trapezoid of stars, located about halfway below a line between Procyon in Canis Minor and Regulus in Leo, represents the snake’s head. To its lower left is a solitary bright star called Alphard, the heart of the snake. The rest of the constellation is a long serpentine string of fainter stars that stretches to Virgo. It takes about eight hours for the entire constellation to rise. Two other constellations, Corvus the Crow and Crater the Cup, are sitting on Hydra’s back.

In mythology, Hercules had to kill the multi-headed Hydra as the second of his famous labours. Knowing the creature could only be killed by severing all of the heads, and that two would grow in where one was severed, he placed a tree stump in a fire. When he cut off a head he cauterized the wound with the glowing stump to prevent the regrowth. When Hera saw that Hercules might win she sent a crab to distract him, but he easily stomped it dead. That explains the presence of the dim constellation Cancer the Crab just above the head of Hydra. Hera despised Hercules because he was the illegitimate son (one of many) of her husband Zeus. When the Hydra was slain, Hercules dipped his arrows in the Hydra’s poisonous blood for later use.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:39 am and sunset will occur at 5:27 pm, giving 9 hours, 38 minutes of daylight (7:42 am and 5:34 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:29 am and set at 5:37 pm, giving 10 hours, 8 minutes of daylight (7:32 am and 5:44 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at third quarter on Wednesday morning, and it is near Mars on Friday. Jupiter and Mars are well-placed in the south for morning observing, while Saturn can be found far to their lower left above the lid of the Sagittarius Teapot asterism. The solar system looks to be fairly quiet this week, so try to spot the International Space Station. Brighter than Jupiter, it makes at least one evening pass each evening this week between 6 pm and 8 pm, travelling approximately west to east. Check out the Heavens Above website for the times after setting your location.

The Saint John Astronomy Club meets on Saturday, February 3 at 7 pm in the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

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