Mercury and Mars less than a degree apart after sunset on February 8th
Mercury is well placed in the evening twilight this month, but spotting it won’t be easy. The closest planet to the sun will be low in the west-southwest horizon and will be a bit washed out by twilight’s glow. Binoculars may be needed to find it in the glare of twilight.
On February 8, Mercury will be less than 1 degree from pale orange Mars. The sky won’t be dark enough to see them until they’re just setting, so you’ll need a view to the west that is unobstructed and free from light pollution. They should be visible half an hour after sunset. During the event, Mercury will be about eight times brighter than Mars.
On February 11, a thin crescent moon, one day past new moon will join Mercury and Mars in the twilight sky.
Mercury’s visibility will continue to improve until February 16, when it reaches its greatest eastern elongation from the sun and appears 11 degrees above the west-southwestern horizon. Afterward it will drop back toward the sun, disappearing into bright twilight by the end of the month.
Moon and Jupiter less than 1 degree apart on February 18
Another close conjunction between Jupiter and the Moon, joined by Aldebaran and the Hyades to the left and the Pleiades to the right, will occur on February 18th. At the moment of closest approach, the Moon will be at mag -11.9, and Jupiter at mag -2.4, both in the constellation Taurus.
The pair will be a little too widely separated to fit comfortably within the field of view of a telescope, but will be visible to the naked eye or a through pair of binoculars. To some parts of the world like in the southern Indian Ocean, Southern Australia and Tasmania, this will be viewed as an occultation event where in the Moon will actually pass in front of Jupiter.
Other events this month:
* FEBRUARY 1: Moon ~10 degrees above Spica (in the constellation Virgo)
* FEBRUARY 4: Moon ~7 degrees below Saturn in the eastern sky
* FEBRUARY 5: Moon by “Scorpion’s Crown” before dawn
* FEBRUARY 8: Mercury & Mars in tight conjunction in the western sky shortly after sunset (about 0.4 degrees apart)
* FEBRUARY 9: Moon ~8 degrees above Venus before dawn
* FEBRUARY 11: Thin moon near Mercury & Mars after sunset
* FEBRUARY 16: Mercury in greatest eastern elongation (11 degrees above WSW horizon)
* FEBRUARY 18: Moon and Jupiter less than 1 degree apart
* FEBRUARY 25: Moon and Regulus (in the constellation Leo) ~10 degree apart
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* FEBRUARY 3: Third Quarter Moon at 21:57
* FEBRUARY 10: New Moon at 15:20
* FEBRUARY 18: First Quarter Moon at 04:31
* FEBRUARY 26: Full Moon at 04:26
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Measuring angles in the night sky
The post made reference to angular separations of objects in the night sky, like the moon and planets. If you’re wondering how to measure or approximate these angular distances when you do skygazing, below is a simple guide that will teach you how. The good news is you don’t need any device. You only have to use your own hand. 🙂
Hold your fist at arms length, and:
- Extend your little finger; it’s width is approximately 1 degree.
- Extend your three middle fingers (without the little finger); thats about 5 degrees.
- A clenched fist (thumb to little finger) is about 10 degrees.
- From the tip of the little finger to the tip of the thumb, an extended hand with fingers and thumb splayed subtends about 20 degrees.
Thats it! Those measurements are approximations but are accurate enough to locate the objects in the sky .
Last January 22, 2013, the waxing gibbous moon appeared near the bright planet Jupiter in the evening sky.
As seen from the Philippines, the Moon and Jupiter made a close approach within roughly 5 degrees of each other. Some folks in the Southern Hemisphere, however have seen Jupiter completely disappear behind the moon – an occultation.
During this event, the Moon was at mag -12.3, and Jupiter at mag -2.6, both in the constellation Taurus.
The sky condition was mostly cloudy. When the clouds parted, I was able to a couple of wide angle images which includes the two famous star clusters in Taurus — the Hyades and the Pleiades. In another image, the moon was shot at two different exposures to show the amount of separation between it and Jupiter.
Images were taken from Bulacan, Philippines around 8:40 – 9:00 pm PHT.
March 5, 2012 – This would have been a very fine evening for skygazing if only the clouds weren’t so annoying.
Various sky events were happening all at the same time, but nothing can be seen but the clouds.
This day marked the closest encounter of Mars to Earth until the year 2014. Mars is now displaying its greatest brilliance in our sky. Also on this day, the planet Mercury arrived at its greatest eastern point, 18 degrees to the east of the sun. This was Mercury’s best eastern apparition in 2012. In addition, a bright ISS (almost as bright as Jupiter) passed near Venus at around dusk. It was a nice opportunity to capture this ISS pass because of its proximity to two of the brightest objects in the night sky this month.
I was originally planning to take photos of Mars and Mercury during twilight – Mercury in the western sky, and Mars on the eastern side – but as I said, thick clouds came in and obscured my view.
Mercury, now shining at magnitude -1.2, is only a little fainter than Sirius (the brightest star in the sky). Though this planet is often cited as the most difficult of the five brightest naked-eye planets to see, there is now a fine “window of opportunity” for seeing Mercury in the evening sky. This window which began last February 22 and will close after March 12, provides several good opportunities to see this so-called “elusive planet” with our own naked eyes.
Locating Mercury in the west after sunset is quite a challenge because it’s so close to the horizon. Moreover, although it is actually as bright as a first-magnitude star, the glow of evening twilight tends to subdue its brilliance.
This month, Mercury starts become visible around 30 to 45 minutes after sunset. This tiny planet can be found hanging beneath the brighter planets Venus and Jupiter. Using Stellarium, I estimated its location to be about 25 to 30 degrees below Venus. It was hard to spot Mercury at first glance but after a few seconds, my eyes were able to detect its faint glow.
However, it was visible only for a very brief moment.
As soon as I finished setting up the tripod and the camera, the clouds have already covered about 5 degrees of the horizon and Mercury was nowhere to be seen.
I tried my luck to look for this planet on the following evenings but the sky was not any better until March 8.
Weather was not so bad as the past few days so I was slightly optimistic. The sun set promptly at 6:06 pm and I searched in the same area of the sky, expecting to see Mercury. After more than half an hour, Jupiter and Venus popped into the view – still there is no sign of Mercury. A nice big full moon in the east was rising, and it seemed to grin at me cruelly!
I was just about to give in when at 6:40 pm, Mercury sailed into view; flashing yellow and orange and battling the murkiness. Having just enough time to take a few photos before it disappeared a few minutes after, I hurried and managed to get off a few shots.
It was a pleasant surprise. 🙂
Photos above were taken using my Panasonic Lumix digital camera and were post processed in Photoshop to enhance the visibility of Mercury. The planet was too dim and too small to be seen without zooming into the images.
Mercury is quickly decreasing in altitude as each day passes, so take the opportunity well this month to spot it.
This year comes with its share of many remarkable skywatching events that we can participate in. The most important is the rare transit of Venus across the face of the Sun in June 2012. The next time this will occur again is in 2117. We have the unique opportunity to observe this. (A note to Philippine observers: We are in a good location for this event!) Moreover, there’s also the Mercury elongation in February, Jupiter-Venus conjunction on March 13-15, the solar eclipses on May 21 and November 14 and our favorite annual meteor showers.
The list below also contains some tips for Philippine observers.
Clear skies and happy observing! 🙂
February 20 – March 12 : Best Chance to see Mercury
The planet Mercury will be far enough from the Sun’s glare to be visible shortly after sunset. Mercury will reach greatest elongation from the Sun on March 5, reaching a relatively bright magnitude of about -1. This will be your best chance to see the planet this year.
February 26 : Moon, Jupiter and Venus at Dusk
Look westward after sunset to see the moon and the dazzling planets Jupiter and Venus lighting up the western sky.
March 3 : Mars at Opposition
The red planet will be at its closest approach to Earth and its face will be fully illuminated by the Sun. This is the best time to view and photograph this planet. Mars will be an imposing naked-eye sight, shining at magnitude -1.2, just a bit dimmer than Sirius, the brightest star, and will be visible in the sky all night long.
March 14 : Conjunction of Venus and Jupiter
The two brightest planets in the sky will be within 3 degrees of each other in the evening sky. On March 25 and 25, the crescent Moon will be near the two planets, creating a dazzling evening spectacle.
March 26 : Crescent Moon, Jupiter and Venus line up at Dusk
Watch for the young waxing crescent moon and the planets Jupiter and Venus near each other in the west after sunset. The moon, Venus and Jupiter rank as the brightest, second- and third-brightest heavenly bodies of nighttime respectively. This will be last chance in 2012 that you will see them all-together at dusk.
March 27: Venus at Greatest Eastern Elongation
Venus reaches its greatest eastern elongation and will be separated from the Sun by 46°, its greatest apparent distance from the sun on our sky’s dome. Venus will set about three hours after sunset during this event. At this superb evening elongation for the Northern Hemisphere, Venus will stand above the setting sun. This is a good time to look out for the Schroter Effect, which predicts that dichotomy the 50% lit phase occurs a few days early for evening elongation.
April 3: Venus near the Pleiades
Venus will appear to the left of the Pleiades star cluster. Especially with binoculars or a small telescope, this bright plant should appear swimming in a sea of stars.
April 15 : Saturn at Opposition
The ringed planet will be at its closest approach to Earth and its face will be fully illuminated by the Sun. This is the best time to view and photograph Saturn and its moons.
April 21, 22 : Lyrid Meteor Shower
The Lyrids are an average shower, usually producing about 20 meteors per hour at their peak. These meteors can produce bright dust trails that last for several seconds. The shower usually peaks on April 21 & 22, although some meteors can be visible from April 16 – 25. With no moon to get in the way this year, this really should be a good show. Look for meteors radiating from the constellation of Lyra after midnight.
May 21 : [Annular] Solar Eclipse
The path of annularity will begin in southern China and move east through Japan, the northern Pacific Ocean, and into the western United States. A partial eclipse will be visible throughout parts of eastern Asia and most of North America. (NASA Map and Eclipse Information) (Note: In the Philippines, we will be able to see a crescent sun at dawn.)
June 4 : Partial Lunar Eclipse
The eclipse will be visible throughout most of Asia, including the Philippines Australia, the Pacific Ocean, and the Americas. (NASA Map and Eclipse Information) In the Philippines, we can observe this event as an eclipse at dusk, meaning we will be able to see an eclipsed moon rising.
eclipse magnitude: 37.6%
moonrise: 6:17 pm PHT
greatest eclipse: 7:03 pm PHT
partial eclipse ends: 8:07 pm PHT
penumbral eclipse ends: 9:19 pm PHT
Go to http://shadowandsubstance.com/ to see an animation of the eclipse.
June 6 : Transit of Venus Across the Sun
This extremely rare event will be entirely visible throughout most of eastern Asia, eastern Australia, and Alaska. A partial transit can be seen in progress at sunrise throughout Europe, western Asia, and eastern Africa. A partial transit can be seen in progress at sunset throughout most of North America, Central America, and western South America. The next transit will not take place until the year 2117. (NASA Transit Information | NASA Transit Map)
July 15 : Moon, Venus and Jupiter near the Hyades and the Pleiades Star Cluster
See the three brightest objects in the night sky next to the Pleiades and the Hyades open star cluster in Taurus before dawn on July 15th.
August 12, 2012: Occultation of Jupiter by the Moon
For Philippine observers, the morning of 12 August sees the waning crescent Moon pass in front of Jupiter and its moons in a so-called occultation. Occultations are comparatively rare events, which offer good photo opportunities for amateur astronomers. Prospects and timings for the event vary with location.
The event takes place while Jupiter and the Moon are low in the sky during the wee hours of the morning.
|2012 Aug 12 02:43||Occultation disappearance of Jupiter (Mag -2.2)|
|2012 Aug 12 03:16||Occultation reappearance of Io (Mag 5.5)|
|2012 Aug 12 03:17||Occultation reappearance of Jupiter (Mag -2.2)|
|2012 Aug 12 03:18||Occultation reappearance of Europa (Mag 5.7)|
|2012 Aug 12 03:20||Occultation reappearance of Callisto (Mag 6.1)|
|2012 Aug 12 03:32||Occultation reappearance of Ganymede (Mag 5.0)|
August 11, 12 : Perseids Meteor Shower
The Perseids is one of the best meteor showers to observe, producing up to 60 meteors per hour at their peak. The shower’s peak usually occurs on August 11 & 12, but you may be able to see some meteors any time from July 23 – August 24. The radiant point for this shower will be in the constellation Perseus. The near last quarter moon will be hanging around for the show, but shouldn’t be too much of a problem for a shower with up to 60 meteors per hour. Find a location far from city lights and look to the northeast after midnight.
October 5 : Moon-Jupiter Conjunction
The King of the Planets and the crescent moon will reunite for a close celestial pairing. Check the eastern sky around midnight to spot these two objects that are less than one degree apart!
October 21, 22: Orionid Meteor Shower
The Orionid Meteor Shower usually reaches its peak around October 21, having an average of 20 meteors per hour. The Orionids are fast meteors and also have fireballs. These meteors radiate near the boundaries between the Great Hunter Orion and Gemini. The cometary debris left behind by Comet Halley — bits of ice, dust and rubble — create the Orionid meteor shower. It last visited Earth in 1986.
A good show could be experienced on any morning from October 20 – 24, but some meteors may be seen any time from October 17 – 25. The first quarter moon will set by midnight, leaving a dark sky for what should be a good show.
The best time to view these meteors is usually in the wee hours before dawn. That time holds true no matter what time zone you’re in.
November 13 : Total Solar Eclipse
The path of totality will only be visible in parts of extreme northern Australia and the southern Pacific Ocean. A partial eclipse will be visible in most parts of eastern Australia and New Zealand. (NASA Map and Eclipse Information) (Note: This event is not visible in the Philippines.)
November 17, 18 : Leonids Meteor Shower
The Leonids is one of the better meteor showers to observe, producing an average of 40 meteors per hour at their peak. The shower itself has a cyclic peak year every 33 years where hundreds of meteors can be seen each hour. The last of these occurred in 2001. The shower usually peaks on November 17 & 18, but you may see some meteors from November 13 – 20. The crescent moon will set early in the evening leaving dark skies for what should be an excellent show. Look for the shower radiating from the constellation Leo after midnight, and be sure to find a dark location for viewing.
November 27 : Conjunction of Venus and Saturn
These two bright planets will be within 1 degree of each other in the morning sky. Look to the east around sunrise.
December 3 : Jupiter at Opposition
The giant planet will be at its closest approach to Earth and its face will be fully illuminated by the Sun. This is the best time to view and photograph Jupiter and its moons.
December 11 : Saturn, Venus, Mercury and the Crescent Moon at Predawn
Check the eastern sky about an hour before dawn to see this magnificent celestial display of the three planets and the thin lunar crescent.
December 13, 14 : Geminid Meteor Shower
Considered by many to be the best meteor shower in the heavens, the Geminids are known for producing up to 60 multicolored meteors per hour at their peak. The peak of the shower usually occurs around December 13 & 14, although some meteors should be visible from December 6 – 19. The radiant point for this shower will be in the constellation Gemini. This year the new moon will guarantee a dark sky for what should be an awesome show. Best viewing is usually to the east after midnight from a dark location.
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- Stellarium Planetarium Software
Jupiter (upper right) and Venus (left) Feb. 10, 2012 6:50 PM
Jupiter and Venus, the two great and famous luminaries of heaven are now 30° apart in the western sky during early evening and are moving closer to each other by roughly one degree each day.
Jupiter, king of planets, has been our constant evening companion for the last six months. Only Venus outshines Jupiter among the planets and stars. Venus and Jupiter are so bright you might think you’ve witnessed a double supernova beaming through the evening twilight. But, no, it’s just the two brightest planets in our own solar system.
Over the next couple weeks, Venus and Jupiter will continuously reign the evening sky; only the moon will be brighter. The planets will continue to get closer and closer to one another until March.
On the evenings of February 24, 25 and 26, the thin lunar crescent will pass close to Venus and Jupiter.
By March 14 and 15, these two bright objects will be on a spectacular conjunction — the closest in 2012. The next Venus-Jupiter conjunction after this one falls on May 28, 2013.
At the moment of closest approach, Venus will be at mag -4.9, and Jupiter at mag -2.1, both in the constellation Aries. The pair will be too widely separated to fit within the field of view of a telescope, but will be visible to the naked eye or through a pair of binoculars.
After this event, Venus and Jupiter will remain close throughout the month of March 2012. They are like twin beacons – two very bright planets – near each other in the west as soon as the sun goes down.