Just in time to celebrate Valentine’s Day, the silvery moon guides sky-watchers to a stellar heart, just as the goddess of love shines at her brightest this week.
Moon joins Jupiter. Check out the king of planets after nightfall on Monday, February 10, as Jupiter pairs up with the waxing, gibbous moon in the southeastern sky. Both celestial objects sit within the constellation Gemini and make for a stunning pair because they will appear only 5 degrees apart—equal to the width of your three middle fingers held at arm’s length.
As an observation challenge, try to spot the gas giant to the upper left of the moon after it rises in the east in the late afternoon. Since the planet is so close to the moon, it will be easier to track down, especially with binoculars.
Dog and pup lineup. By Wednesday, February 12, the moon will form a straight line with two cosmic dogs, Procyon and Sirius.
About 10 degrees to the lower right of the moon is Procyon, or Little Dog, about 11.5 light-years distant in the Canis Minor constellation. Once you spot the Little Dog, follow along the same imaginary line southward and the next brilliant star you see is Sirius, the Big Dog star, in the constellation Canis Major, 8.8 light-years distant.
Full moon and Leo’s heart. The full moon officially arrives at 6:53 p.m. EST on Valentine’s Day, Friday, February 14. As the majestic silvery orb rises in the east soon after sunset, look for a sparkling companion. Representing the heart of Leo the lion, Regulus, a blue-white stellar giant, is about 3.5 times larger than our sun and is a young teenager when it comes to star lifetimes, at about 300 million years old.
If you get clouded out Friday, you get another chance on Saturday evening to catch the cosmic duo as the moon pulls away from Regulus and sinks closer to the horizon.
Herculina and the Crab. Another attraction on Valentine’s Day is the close encounter between asteroid Herculina and a bright supernova remnant—the Crab Nebula. Read all the details here.
Venus most brilliant. Look any time in mid-February toward the low southeastern sky at dawn and your eye can’t help but be drawn to a sparkling point of light known as the morning star.
On Saturday, February 15, Venus puts on its brightest morning show for 2014 as it glows at magnitude –4.9, the brightest it can get in our skies. The second planet from the sun shines about 10 times brighter than Jupiter, the other major planet visible in our evening skies this month.
And you don’t want to miss this sky show because Venus won’t appear this bright and high in Earth’s skies again until 2015.
The views through a small telescope will also be impressive as the planet’s disk looks like a miniature version of the crescent moon, thanks to the geometry of Earth and the moon in relation to the sun.
Zodiacal lights. Starting on Sunday, February 16, and for the next two weeks, sky-watchers who can make it out of the city and away from bright city lights will have a chance to see the zodiacal lights.
With the waning, gibbous moon dropping out of the sky by early evenings, the next two weeks mark the best chance for Northern Hemisphere observers to catch the elusive glow of the zodiacal lights.
This ethereal light is caused by sunlight reflecting off countless dust particles scattered along the plane of the solar system, between the planets.
If you are far from city lights in the dark countryside, look for a pyramid-shaped glow—fainter than the Milky Way—rising above the western horizon after sunset.