and Venus will be visible in the SW at sunset for all of
February. Uranus starts the month slightly higher in the skies
but you will probably need a good pair of binoculars to see it.
Throughout most of the month, it will appear to get closer and closer
to Mars. On the 26th, you might be able to see both planets at
the same time.
February 1, Jupiter will rise in the east at 11:00 PM. Right
behind it and slightly to the South, another bright object will
rise. Don’t mistake it for a planet. That’s Spica, the 15th
brightest star in the night sky.
bright star in the East at sundown is Procyon. It’s the 8th
brightest star in the night sky with a visual magnitude of +0.4. If you
look closely (with a telescope), you will see it’s a binary system, but
Procyon’s companion is much dimmer, with a visual magnitude of +10.80.
is an ancient Greek word for “before the dog.” It got this
name because Sirius, the dog star, rises just after Procyon.
Procyon, Sirius, and Betelgeuse (the Eastern shoulder star in Orion)
are the corner stars of the “Winter Triangle.”
image offers four nebulae for the price of one. The Horsehead
Nebula is displayed on the right of the page and the Flame Nebula is on
the left. In between and below them are two small reflection
nebulae, NGC 2023 and HD 38087 (surrounding the double star.)
Even though the image makes all four look close to each other, they are
really pretty far apart. The Horse Head Nebula is 1500 light
years away from us while the Flame Nebula is only about 1350 light
years away. When you think about 150 light years, it might not
sound like a great distance, but that’s 900,000,000,000 (9 hundred
billion) miles between the two! Not the kind of distance you want to
drive for the weekend! HD 38087 is relatively close to us at 180 light
years but that means it is not even close to the Horse Head Nebula. NGC
2023 is, astronomically speaking, very close to the Horse Head.
It’s about 1470 light years away, which means it could be within 30
light years of the Horse Head (that’s still 180 billion miles!)
couldn’t help but notice that NGC 2023 and HD 38087 don’t appear to
have any common names associated with them. For some reason they
remind me of Nags Head and Buxton. Maybe the pair could be called
the Outer Banks Nebula?
these distances make you uncomfortable, don’t feel alone. When I
started putting these figure together, I had to take pause a couple of
times to consider them. This anecdote might make them a little
bit more understandable:
an Earth-size planet was been discovered orbiting Proxima
Centuri. Proxima Centuri is the closest star to Earth (not
counting the Sun). It’s only 4.37 light years away. You
probably remember the great images of Pluto that came from the New
Horizons spacecraft in 2015. It took New Horizons 9.5 years to
reach Pluto. Traveling at the same speed (52 thousand mph) a
similar vessel could get to Proxima Centuri in about 54 thousand
years! If you have the time and money and could build a spaceship
using the same technology, you could reach the Horse Head Nebula in
about 6 million years. A lot of changes can come and go in that
amount of time!
First Quarter: February 3
Full moon: February 10
Last Quarter: February 18
New moon: February 26
Lebing is a retired computer scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey
in Washington, D.C. He has visited Hatteras Island since the
mid-1970s. He and his wife, Karen, have owned property here for several
years and moved to their home in Waves full-time in 2013.
Astronomy is a subject that Gerry says he has always been interested in
and one that he pursues seriously -- he's built an small observatory
next to his house. You can send him questions about the night sky
through e-mail, [email protected]g.)