F E B R U A R Y S K Y W A T C H
by Maya del Mar
[Correction: on February 1, last year's February Skywatch was mistakenly published in this space. Here is the correct one for February 2004.Ed.]
All four of the brightest planets have good visibility this monthVenus, Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter.
Venus is especially gorgeous. It is the bright "evening star" that appears in the west at dusk. The most spectacular view is on February 23, when Venus lies just to the right of the delicate new crescent moon. Some of you may have seen such a view on January 24.
This is just a preview. Venus is just beginning its best evening view in over a decade. The distance between earth and Venus is shrinking. Venus appears brighter, while at the same time its phases are changing. These changes reflect its approaching retrograde phase (May-June).
In contrast, orange Mars is fading noticeably. Look for it high in the southwest in the early evening. We can see Mars very close to the new crescent moon on February 25. On February 26, the moon is just below the Pleiades, with Mars below the moon. This is an exciting week, both astronomically and astrologically!
Because the orbital speed of Mars is not much slower than Earths, the red planet will linger in the evening sky for the next few months.
Glamorous Saturn, with its fascinating rings, will be visible high in the southeastern sky after twilight. Watch the splendid Orion rise, and then look between Orions red star, Betelgeuse, and the Gemini Twins, Caster and Pollux. There is Saturn, and it is identified by its golden bright, steady shine.
We can see Saturn close to the gibbous moon on February 2 and on February 29. For the last few months, Saturn has been moving retrograde, and has appeared almost immobile in the sky. However, in early March it will resume its normal eastward trek.
The best views of Saturn are when it has climbed high enough to be out of the earths haze. Early in February this is 10 p.m. local time. By late in the month it has become 8 p.m.
As Venus sets in the west, Jupiter rises in the east. By midnight, Jupiter will be high in the sky, and we can see it clearly. Its a beautiful inspiration for happy dreams!