Last modified: Wednesday, January 31, 2007
Enjoy Venus in early evening, Saturn all night
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Jan. 31, 2007
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Saturn will be at its peak for the year during February. The planet with the famous rings will be opposite the sun on Feb. 10, when it will rise in the east at nightfall and remain visible all night as it crosses the sky high in the south to set in the west at sunrise.
The best time to view Saturn through a telescope is when the planet is close to us in its orbit, as it is now, and when it is high in the southern sky, above most of the turbulence in our atmosphere. That will be most of the night during February.
Saturn's largest moon, the planet-sized Titan, will be due north of Saturn on Feb. 4 and 20, and due south on Feb. 11 and 28. Titan can be seen with any telescope.
One way to find Saturn is by using the bright stars of constellations. To Saturn's left (east) will be the stars of the constellation Leo the Lion, with its brightest star, Regulus. Saturn will be three times brighter than Regulus.
Farther to Saturn's right (west) will be the conspicuous constellation Orion the Hunter, with its four bright stars Betelgeuse, Bellatrix, Rigel and Saiph at the corners and a line of three bright stars in the middle that forms Orion's belt. If this line of three stars is extended to the left (east), it points almost directly to Sirius, the brightest star in the sky of the Northern Hemisphere. More information on Orion is available at http://www.seds.org/messier/map/Ori.html.
Orion's bright orange star Betelgeuse joins with white Sirius and the bright white star Procyon to the east to form the Winter Triangle in the southern sky, with each side about equal in length. Shining above Betelgeuse will be the bright yellow star Capella in the constellation Auriga the Charioteer. Capella, Rigel and Procyon are the second-, third- and fourth-brightest stars in the sky of the Northern Hemisphere. Add Saturn and Sirius, and it's easy to see why this part of the sky glitters so brilliantly.
Venus will dominate the western sky after sunset, so bright it will be easy to spot in the southwest just a half hour after the sun disappears. This gorgeous "evening star" will be unmistakable as the sky darkens.
Use brilliant Venus to help locate Mercury, which will have a fine evening appearance during February. The small planet will reach its greatest height above the west-southwestern horizon on Feb. 7, when it can be seen a half hour after sunset to the lower right (west) of Venus. Binoculars may help in finding Mercury, but then you'll be able to see the planet unaided. Mercury will quickly drop back toward the horizon during the third week of the month and disappear into the solar glare.
Jupiter will rise in the east-southeast around 3:30 a.m. local time at the beginning of February and two hours earlier by month's end. The huge planet will be fairly high in the southeast by the start of morning twilight, to the left (east) of the bright orange star Antares in the constellation Scorpius.
Mars will rise little more than an hour before the sun this month, probably too low and faint to pick out of the solar glare.
The moon will be full on Feb. 2, at third quarter on Feb. 10, new on Feb. 17 and at first quarter on Feb. 24.