Monthly Sky Guide: February 2002
The celestial highlights this month are two spectacular encounters between the Moon and the gas giant planets Jupiter and Saturn.
JUPITER in Gemini remains the most prominent object in the evening sky. During the course of the month Jupiter will dim slightly from magnitude - 2.6 to - 2.4 and still outshine Sirius, the brightest star in the sky, by a full magnitude. In the early evening of February 22nd, North American skywatchers will be treated to a spectacular close pairing of the Moon and Jupiter. For observers in northern and western Europe, northern Canada, and Siberia the Moon will actually pass in front of Jupiter. The occultation is centered at 2h UT on February 23rd.
SATURN an impressive object in Taurus is currently comparable in brightness to the bright stars Capella and Rigel. In the early evening of February 20th skywatchers in the eastern United States and southeast Canada will be able to watch the ringed planet disappear behind the Moon. Seen by eye, the planet will appear to fade from view soon after it encounters the dark limb of the Moon. View through a telescope if you can. Saturn will reappear on the bright side of the Moon about an hour later--the exact duration depends upon one's latitude. The occultation is centered at 0h UT and should not be missed, especially if you have access to a telescope.
VENUS remains too close to the Sun to be easily seen. However, by the end of the month keen skywatchers should be able to catch a glimpse of the "evening star" very low in the western sky. Try looking just above the west-southwest horizon about 30 minutes after sunset.
MARS in Pisces continues to fade as its distance from Earth increases. By month's end Mars will cross into Aries and dim to magnitude 1.3, its diameter now less than 5 arcseconds. The brilliant orange beacon of last summer is now nothing more than a tiny, featureless disk when seen in a telescope.
MERCURY at greatest morning elongation on February 21st, but unfortunately too low to be easily seen from mid-northern latitudes.
The Zodiacal Light is caused by sunlight reflecting off meteoric dust lying in the plane of the ecliptic. Best seen in late February, look for a faint, conical glow extending upwards from the western horizon about 1 to 2 hours after sunset. [Northern Hemisphere only]
Clear skies until next month!
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