The Planets for February 2015
This is a great month to observe the planet Mercury but you will have to get out of bed early in the morning to do so. By the 24th when it is at its greatest elongation from the Sun the planet rises over two hours before the Sun. It spends the entire month in Capricornus and on the 5th of the month passes
1 degree to the south of Dabih, the second brightest star of that constellation. The thin waning crescent Moon rises 20 minutes before Mercury on the 17th of February.
At the beginning of February Venus sets a little over one hour later than the Sun among the stars of Aquarius. It passes less than
1 degree to the south of Neptune on the 1st and less than half a degree to the south of Mars on the 22nd. The conjunction with Neptune will be difficult to observe low in the western evening twilight. Venus moves from Aquarius into Pisces on the 17th where it is joined by a thin waxing crescent Moon on the 21st.
The red planet is getting harder to observe now as by the end of the month it sets just over one hour after the Sun in the evening twilight. On the 22nd it lies
.4 degrees to the north of the much brighter Venus and should be easy enough to locate in binoculars. The thin crescent Moon sits
4 degrees to its north East on the 21st of the Month.
On the 1st of February Jupiter rises at 8:25pm and is at opposition with the Sun on the 7th so is visible all night long. It retrogrades from Leo into Cancer on the 8th where it will remain for the rest of the month and by month's end sits
to the east of the Beehive star cluster. The full Moon will be nearby on the 4th and 5th.
The ringed planet rises at 1.30am, five hours before the Sun, on the 1st of the month but by the end of February will rise just before midnight. It resides for the moment in the constellation Scorpius within a few degrees of the stars marking the scorpion's claws. Its distinct yellowish tinge will distinguish it from the background stars. The waning crescent moon will be
from Saturn on the 13th of the month.
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The Planets for March 2015
Still in a great position for observation in the early morning eastern sky for the first half of March as until the 8th of the month it will rise at least two hours before the Sun. On the 6th the inner planet will pass less than one degree to the north of the 7.9 magnitude asteroid Vesta and on the 9th less than one degree to the north of delta Capricorni, (Deneb Algieda, the goat's tail). This is the brightest star in Capricornus and is an eclipsing binary, varying by a barely perceptible 0.2 of a magnitude every 24.5 hours. It lies 49 light years away. On the 12th Mercury crosses from Capricornus into Aquarius where on the 19th it is joined by the thin crescent of the 28 day old waning Moon.
The "Evening Star" sets 81 minutes later than the Sun on the 1st of the month but by the end of the month will be setting over 100 minutes later than the Sun. It begins the month among the stars of Pisces, passing less than half a degree from the planet Uranus on the 4th and 5th and crossing into Aries on the 17th of the month. The waxing crescent Moon will be 8 degrees to the west of Venus on the 22nd and 6 degrees to its east on the 23rd.
The southern hemisphere's autumnal equinox occurs on March the 21st.
Low in the western evening twilight at the beginning of March, Mars is setting a little over one hour later than the Sun on the 1st. However by the end of the month the red planet will set only 50 minutes after the Sun and be hard to spot just above the western horizon and in
twilight's glare. The two day old crescent Moon will be 5 degrees above Mars on the 22nd of the month.
High in the north eastern sky after sunset this giant world is in an ideal location for observation for most of the night. Still retrograding against the background stars of Cancer, by the end of the month Jupiter will be 5 degrees to the east of the Beehive star cluster. The waxing gibbous Moon will appear just south of Jupiter on the 3rd and the 30th of the month.
The ringed planet rises before 11pm on the first day of March and by the end of the month crosses the eastern horizon a full two hours earlier. It spends the entire month within 0.5
degree of Nu Scorpii, a 4th magnitude star near the head of the Scorpion. This star lies at a distance of 550 light years and is a quadruple star similar to the famous Double Double in Lyra. A small telescope shows Nu Scorpii as a wide double with blue-white components of magnitudes 4.0 and 6.3. Telescopes of 75mm and above reveal at high magnification that the fainter star is itself a close double of magnitudes 6.8 and 7.8. The brighter star is an even closer double of magnitudes 4.4 and 6.4 requiring an aperture of 150mm to split. The waning gibbous moon passes to the north of Saturn on the 12th and 13th of March.
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The Planets for April 2015
Lost in the glare of the Sun for most of the month but you may be lucky to catch a glimpse of it in the western evening twilight on the last days of the month. It will then setting less than an hour later than the Sun within 2 degrees of the Pleiades star cluster.
Very prominent in the western evening sky after the Sun has set and by the 17th of April will be setting a full two hours later than the Sun. It crosses from Aries into Taurus on the 7th where on the 11th the brightest planet sits 2.5 degrees to the south of the Pleiades star cluster. The waxing crescent Moon will be in the neighborhood of Venus on the 21st and 22nd of the month with the Hyades star cluster adding to the scene. The last day of the month finds "The Evening Star" just over 2 degrees to the south of beta Tauri, (El Nath, the butting one) a 1.7 magnitude blue giant that lies at a distance of 140 light years from the Sun.
Low in the western evening twilight and with an angular diameter of less than 4
arc minutes, Mars is not worth the trouble this month and will be out of contention now until next August.
Among the faint stars of Cancer and 5 degrees to the east of the Beehive star cluster, Jupiter is in a great position for observation after the Sun sets in April. On the 9th the giant planet comes to the end of its retrograde loop and appears to move eastward again against the background stars. The first quarter Moon lies 5 degrees to the south of Jupiter on the 26th.
The magnificent ringed planet rises around 8:30pm at the beginning of the month and by the end of the month almost two hours earlier. Situated among the stars marking the Scorpion's claws, Saturn is easily identified by its distinct golden glow. Because of its retrograde motion at the moment if you observe it closely over the month you will notice a 1.5 degrees shift to the west in relation to the background stars. The waning gibbous Moon and Saturn are less than 3 degrees apart on the 8th of the month.
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The Planets for May 2015
This tiny inner world makes only a brief appearance in the western evening twilight sky this month. Even at its greatest elongation from the Sun on the 7th it will set barely one hour later than the Sun before making its way back toward the Sun for inferior conjunction on the 30th of the month. The very thin wafer of the one day old waxing crescent Moon sits 5 degrees to the south of Mercury on the 19th and may be a bit of a challenge to observe.
Perched directly between the stars marking the tips of the horns of Taurus the bull as May begins, Venus is unmistakable in the western evening sky after sunset. The planet will be by far the brightest object in that part of the sky until it is joined by the Moon later in the month. It moves swiftly eastward in relation to the background stars crossing into Gemini on the 9th where it is joined by a waxing crescent Moon on the 21st and 22nd of the month. By the end of the month Venus will have moved to within 5 degrees of Pollux, the brightest star in Gemini which is an orange giant lying at a distance of 36 light years from the Sun. In 2006 astronomers discovered a planet orbiting Pollux with a mass twice that of Jupiter and orbiting the star once every 590 days.
Too close to the Sun to be observed until it returns to the morning sky in August.
Well past the meridian after the Sun has set at the beginning of May, Jupiter still resides among the faith stars of Cancer the crab. It will be joined by the waxing crescent Moon on the 24th and for those who like a challenge, on the same evening the asteroid 10.4 magnitude 3 Juno sits 1 degree to the north west of the Moon and 3.5 degrees to the south of Jupiter.
This is an ideal month to observe the ringed planet as it will be in the sky all night long, rising at 6.30pm at the beginning of the month and coming to opposition on the 23rd. Because of its retrograde motion at the moment it moves westward against the background stars, crossing from Scorpius into Libra on the 13th of the month. An almost full Moon sits 3 degrees to the north of Saturn on the 5th of the month.
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The Planets for June 2015
This elusive little planet ascends out of the early morning twilight in the constellation of Taurus-The Bull, moving further from the Sun as the month progresses. It will be at its greatest elongation west of the Sun on the 25th when it will rise almost two hours before the Sun after which it begins its journey back toward the Sun. On the 24th it lies two degrees to the north of Aldebaran, Taurus' brightest star which marks the angry red eye of the bull. This star is one of the nearest red giants to the Sun at a distance of 29 light years and although it appears to be part of the V shaped Hyades star it is in fact an unrelated foreground star. The waning crescent Moon is within two degrees of Mercury on the 15th of the month.
High in the western evening sky after sunset among the stars of Gemini and easily dominating that part of the heavens. On the 2nd it will form a straight line with Gemini's two brightest stars, Caster and Pollux before crossing into Cancer on the 4th and into Leo on the 26th of the month. The last day of June sees Venus situated less than one degree from the Giant planet, Jupiter. The thin waxing crescent Moon will be five degrees to the south of Venus on the 20th of the Month.
On the opposite side of the Sun on the 15th and too close to the Sun for observation until August.
Moving eastward against the background stars of Cancer-The crab until the 11th when it will cross into Leo. Make an effort to view the planet early in the evening as Jupiter will set around 10:00pm at the beginning of the month and by month's end will be set by 8:30pm. Be sure to check out the early evening western sky on the 20th when the four day old waxing crescent Moon will be in the vicinity of both Jupiter and the brighter Venus. By the end of the month Venus will have moved to within one degree of Jupiter.
The ringed planet rises at 4:30pm at the start of the month and so will be quite high in the eastern evening sky after the sun has set. Now situated among the stars of Libra where on the 1st and again on the 29th of the month it is joined by the waxing gibbous Moon. Early in the evening of June the 1st the Moon will occult the 3.9 magnitude gamma Librae (Zubenelakrab, the scorpions claw). From the location of Sydney the star will disappear at 6:31pm EST and reappear at 7:27pm EST.
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