Evan Hazard/Northland Stargazing: February stars and planets: Stay warm
BEMIDJI — In the last week of January, Mercury has a good evening apparition in the WSW. On Jan. 31, it is at greatest elongation from Sol and can be easily spotted for a few days; a thin crescent Luna will be to Mercury’s right on Jan. 31, and move up past Mercury the next few days. It’s still winter, so dress warmly if you are stargazing; you get cold faster when not moving briskly.
Jupiter is high in the ESE at dusk, dimming slightly through February as we hurry away from it. Mars rises about 11 p.m. Groundhog Day, but by 9:30 p.m. on St. David’s Day, March 1. In our faster orbit, we are catching up to Mars, which is therefore brightening. Saturn rises after midnight all month. Venus, our Morgenstern, is a bright, narrow crescent Feb. 1. A couple of weeks later, it will be farther from us, but we will see more of its sunlit side. It will reach maximum brilliancy Feb. 15. This time around, its orbit doesn’t take Venus as far above the pre-dawn horizon as we might like. On Feb. 26, Luna, a narrowing crescent, is close to Venus; its occults Venus about dawn in locations in Africa and Asia.
The winter Milky Way arches from the northwest near Deneb in Cygnus through the zenith and behind Jupiter, to the SE near Sirius, our brightest true star. Capella, brightest star in Auriga, is just north of the zenith. Orion is high in the south, the Hyades and Pleiades northwest of it. The Great Square in Pegasus is low in the WNW. The Little Dipper in Ursa Minor hangs down from Polaris, the North Star. The Big Dipper in Ursa Major is high in the northeast, and Leo, a harbinger of spring, is above the ENE horizon.
You may feel the Milky Way is more spectacular in summer. That’s because it is. In summer, we’re looking in toward its center. In winter we’re looking out, toward its periphery.
Perseus, containing the best known eclipsing variable, Algol, is just west of the zenith. Three minima of Algol are Feb. 12, 2:06 a.m.; Feb. 14, 10:55 p.m.; and Feb. 17, 7:44 pm.
Evan Hazard, a retired BSU biology professor, also writes “Threescore and Ten” for the Pioneer.