Dundee Astronomical Society Sky Notes for February 2016

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Dundee Astronomical Society

Sky Notes for February 2016

Sky Map for 15th February @ 22:00 UT

Illustration Courtesy of www.heavensabove.com

So far the evening sky has not been kind to us a regards clear skies, we can only hope that this month brings better viewing conditions.

There are still many objects to view such as M31, M32 and M110 in Andromeda and also the Heart and Soul Nebulas between Perseus and Cassiopeia. This area is abundant with many DSO’s to view. Why not have a look?

We are now losing Altair in the Summer Triangle but Vega and Deneb are still visible. Albireo, a double star in Cygnus, is still visible in binoculars or a telescope and with its Blue and Golden pair is a gorgeous sight. In Lyra (Vega) lies M27 the Ring Nebula, you will be able to see this in a telescope of 4” and above.

For those of you who are Harry Potter fans you can view some of the characters in our night sky.

Sirius Black, Harry Potter’s God Father, sits in Canis Major

Bellatrix La Strange lies in Orion as the Hunter’s right shoulder.

Regulus Arcturus Black. Sirius Black’s brother lies in Leo (Regulus) whilst his middle name Arcturus lies in Bootes.

Comet Catalina (C/2013 US10) is still visible in our night sky using binoculars or a small telescope, and by the 22nd of the month, can be viewed near NGC1502 at the end of a faint line of stars called Kemble’s Cascade.

Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn and Jupiter will be visible together to the naked eye for the first time in more than a decade and will be around until the 20th of the month. It is probably better to view them, say 45 minutes before sunrise. Mercury will progressively become fainter as the month progresses.

There will be another opportunity to view the planets in alignment from 13 August to 19 August. At that time, the spectacle will take place around dusk, and sky watchers in the southern hemisphere will be best placed to view it.

The Planets

Mercury is an early morning object best viewed on the 7th at 0700 UT just to the east of Venus. On the 6th of the month alongside a 6% waning crescent Moon and with Venus it forms a distinctive triangle in the early morning sky.

Venus is a morning object and rises at 0715 in Sagittarius. Venus is easily recognised as it is the brightest object in the morning sky, however be careful if viewing as the Sun won’t be very far away and it is wise not to stray too close.

Mars rises in the south east sky at about 0215 UT with a best time to view of around 0520 UT. Resident in Libra but being at an altitude of only 18.5 deg, it will need a good view to the horizon to see it and will require a 3” or larger scope.

Jupiter in Leo rises at 2100 on the first of the month but for the best view look for Jupiter on the 29th at 0100 UT when it should provide a great viewing opportunity. Using a pair of binoculars you will be able to see the four Galilean moons (Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto). With a telescope of 4” and above you will also see the north and south equatorial bands and if you are lucky the Great Red Spot. A sight not to be missed as there is always something else to see. On the 24th February the full moon and Jupiter are just 2 deg apart.

Saturn again a morning object is best viewed on the 29th at 0515 UT and is located in Ophiuchus slightly east and above Antares in Scorpius.

Uranus probably the best time to view Uranus (mag +5.9) is on the 1st of the month at 1900 UT. Located in Pisces and at an altitude of 34 deg, Uranus loses altitude throughout the month

Neptune again is not visible in our night sky.


The Moon

Last Quarter 1st February

New Moon 8th February. The new Moon will not be visible in the night sky as it is on the same side of the earth as the Sun. This is the best time of the month to observe faint objects such as galaxies and star clusters because there is no moonlight to interfere.

First Quarter 15th February

Full Moon 22nd February. The Moon will be located on the opposite side of the Earth as the Sun and its face will be fully illuminated. This full moon was known by early Native American tribes as the Full Snow Moon because the heaviest snows usually fell during this time of the year. Since hunting is difficult, this moon has also been known by some tribes as the Full Hunger Moon, since the harsh weather made hunting difficult.

Jim’s Focus of the Month - Hercules

In mythology, Hercules is usually associated with the penultimate labour of Heracles (Greek name for Hercules), which involved killing the dragon Ladon, who guarded the garden of Hesperides. The Dragon is represented in our Northern Sky by the constellation Draco. Although quite low in the sky in the early evening, if you can wait until the early morning it is quite high above the horizon.

Within Hercules lies a couple of Messier objects, the first being M13 known as the Great Globular Cluster. It is one of the brightest and best known globular clusters in our northern sky.

The other Messier object, M92 is located nearly 10 degrees NE of M13 and is another fine globular cluster. This superb object is often over-shadowed due to its proximity to its much more well-known neighbour. M92 appears in telescopes as a slightly fainter and smaller version of M13. A 150mm (6-inch) telescope at high power will show a number of stars, a 250mm (10-inch) scope considerably more. Despite its smaller size, M92 is noticeably compact, especially the core region which is much more difficult to resolve than M13.

Also within Hercules are 3 Planetary Nebula. NGC 6210 is the brightest and the best of the Hercules planetary nebulae. At mag. 8.8 NGC 6210 is an excellent target for small scopes due to its high surface brightness and ability to take high magnifications. With an 80mm (3.1-inch) scope it is easy discernible from the background star field, appearing as an out of focus star that forms a triangle with two other stars of almost equal brightness. With greater magnification, this lovely object can appear blue, blue-green or even aqua in colour. Larger scopes can reveal more detail including a faint outer shell. For some planetary nebulas the central star is elusive, however this one is different and it is possible, under nights of good seeing, to observe the mag. 12.7 central star. Use a minimum 150mm (6-inch) scope and have a go.

IC 4593 sometimes known as the White Eyed Pea, is a mag. 10.7 planetary nebula. It lies at the SW section of Hercules near the border with Serpens Caput. It is easily visible with a 200mm (8-inch) telescope, appearing as a small, slightly elongated out of focus star.

The last Planetary Nebula is NGC 6058 at mag. 12.9 is the faintest of our 3 planetary nebulae. This object is for large scopes only of 12” and above and is noted as being a challenge to view.

Did You Know?

5th February 1974 Mariner 10 takes the first images of Venus.

15th February 1564 Galileo Galilei, Italian astronomer and mathematician born.

20th February 1962 John H. Glenn Jr becomes the first American to orbit the earth.

21st February 1938 George Ellery Hale, American astronomer dies.

Jim Barber

Director of Observations

Dundee Astronomical Society

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