What’s in the sky for February 2021 – Ian Bradley

Astronomy weather forecast sites

They are customizable to your location – the links below are set to Kendal.

Nice resources

Sky Notes for February – Ian Bradley

The Moon

Phase   February March
3rd Quarter 4th 5th
New Moon 11th 12th
1st Quarter 19th 21st
Full Moon 27th 28th

The Planets

Mercury is visible in the early evening sky. Look out for it this week from somewhere with a very good south- western horizon. Helsington? By the end of the week, it is setting only 30 minutes or so after the Sun. By the end of the following week, it is in the dawn sky rising 40 minutes or so before the Sun.

Venus not visible this month.

Mars has both faded (magnitude 0.7) and shrunk in size to only 7”. It is still unmissable in the early evening sky.

Jupiter/Saturn not visible this month.

Uranus is visible most of the night at magnitude 5.8. It should appear a small (only 3” angular diameter) slightly blueish coloured disk in binoculars or a small telescope. It is 13° west of Mars mid-month.

Neptune is not really visible this month.

ISS visible passes

With early few early evening ISS visible passes at the start of the month which cease on the 5th before reappearing as morning passes on the 20th.

Have a look at Heavens Above for a Kendal location website for the specific times

Sky Charts

The charts are for mid-February at 20:00 GMT.

Looking up, [below] south is at the bottom.

 

We still have the fabulous Milky Way right over your heads. This is a great time of year to see

The most obvious star cluster is The Double Cluster (NGC 884/869) situated between Cassiopeia and Perseus. In addition, there is Caroline’s Rose, NGC7789, and M103 in Cassiopeia. The area is a joy to behold in binoculars on a dark night. For wide field imaging photographic targets, what could be better than M31, The Great Andromeda Galaxy and nearby telescopic M33. With a tracked 70mm lens you could capture both NCC7000 and the Pleiades, M45, in one shot.

For double stars, you must look at Almach in Andromeda. This is a pretty colourful double and not too far away, roughly half way between Almach and Cassiopeia, is the planetary nebula M76, The Little Dumbbell in Perseus.

In Perseus, we have another open cluster, M34, and nearby is Algol, the prototype for a class of eclipsing variable stars. Usually magnitude 2.1, it drops to 3.4 every 2.86 days – (2 days 20 hours 49 min), a rather noticeable change. The star is eclipsed for about 2 hours. The Sky & Telescope magazine website has a useful calculator for the predicted mid-eclipse times.

The Minima of Algol

Looking south

 

Three planets to look for here: Mars is unmissable, Uranus in Pisces should be visible in binoculars and 13° west of Mars.

Orion is now prominent in this general direction.

The most obvious telescopic and binocular target is the Great Orion Nebula, M42, always a joy to look at. In nearby Taurus, there is The Pleiades, M45, which are easily seen as a fuzzy patch easily resolvable as stars in a pair of binoculars. This object makes a good widefield photo-op as well as a great telescopic image when misty gas becomes visible. You can also get both M45 and the California Nebula, NGC1499, using a 70mm focal length lens on a DSLR mounted on a tracker mount (i.e. Ioptron or Skywatcher Star Adventurer etc). A much more open cluster in Taurus is the vee of the Hyades with Aldebaran at one end. In addition, there is the Crab Nebula, M1, roughly midway between Capella and Betelgeuse. This fine supernova remnant, the result of the supernova recorded by Chinese astronomers in 1054, is a wonderful photographic object. If you have sufficient resolution, and image every decade or so, it is possible to see changes within the nebula – a great long-term project!

For a real challenge, try and see Sirius’s faint companion Sirius B. This orbits round Sirius A every 50 years and their current separation of 12” is about as big as it gets. The difficulty is that Sirius A is magnitude -1.46 whilst Sirius B is 8.4! That’s 10 magnitudes. To see it, you’ll probably need a well-collimated 8” or above telescope and a night of good seeing – a steady atmosphere.

The difficulty is that Sirius B hides in the glare of Sirius A. The trick apparently is to centre Sirius A in a high-power eyepiece and then traverse the telescope east so that Sirius A just disappears off the western side of the field of view. Take care with inverting telescopes you go the right way! If in doubt, try the other way. Last time I looked, when the separation was much smaller (around 7”), I wasn’t convinced that I saw it. Good luck.

 

Looking east

 

The open cluster M44 Praesepe or the Beehive cluster is a spectacular sight in binoculars. Well worth a look. Leo is now rising nicely and is good much later in the night transiting around 1am. Just beneath the ‘base’ of Leo are a lot of galaxies – just below the bottom of the steeply rising triangular ‘rear’ of Leo is the famous Leo Triplet – three prominent galaxies with M65, M66 and NGC 3628. There is also another group of galaxies a bit further west – M95,M96 & M105. The Messier objects in the Leo Triplet are binocular objects but those in the other trio require a telescope.

Looking west

Cygnus is still prominent for a few more weeks although Lyra is getting lower now but still worth a look. Look out for Delphinus, the Dolphin, as it [being fanciful] frantically tries to swim away from the horizon! The whole constellation neatly fits in the field of view of a standard pair of binoculars.

Looking north

Watch out for aurora across this region of sky.

Ursa Major is not at its best for our map times but it provides a handy reference for north. Its position is improving month to month and later into the evening. The fabulous Whirlpool Galaxy M51 and M101 are still rather low (30°) at map times but obviously better later that night. By midnight of the 15th, M51 is 53° above the horizon.

Of interest is the double star of Mizar and Alcor, once regarded as a test of eyesight but I find fairly easy. Mizar is also a splendid double of unequal components. The separation of only 14.5” requires a telescope to split them. And the pointers, Dubhe and Merak tell you where to look to find Polaris.

Finally, there is the binocular and telescopic galactic duet of M81 and M82, also known as Bodes Galaxy and the Cigar Galaxy respectively. M81 is a near face on spiral whilst M82 is edge on. However, M82 is undergoing massive star burst and colour photographs show a striking ‘jet’ of hot hydrogen streaming from the core. The duet makes a fantastic photographic composition. You’ll need long exposures and a focal length greater than 400mm to show it well.