The Planets for February 2014
Low in the western evening sky just after sunset, Mercury heads for inferior conjunction with the Sun on the 15th of the month when it will pass 4
degrees to the north of the Sun. It quickly moves into the early morning eastern sky and by the end of the month rises just over 90 minutes before the Sun. On the 28th a very thin waning crescent Moon will sit 3
degrees to the north of Mercury and probably best observed with binoculars.
Rising two hours before the Sun at the beginning of February, Venus outshines all the other luminaries in the area until joined by the Moon later in the month. It crosses from Scutum into Sagittarius on the 5th where it will spend the rest of the month. The waning crescent Moon rises thirty minutes before Venus on the 26th and forty minutes later than the planet on the 27th of the month.
The red planet rises just before midnight among the stars of Virgo as February begins. The contrast in colour between Mars and Virgo’s brightest star, Spica is rather striking and although the two are less than
apart in the sky in truth they are 260 light years from each other. Spica is a blue-white star and is an eclipsing binary varying by around 0.1 of a magnitude every four days. The waning gibbous Moon lies between the two on the 20th of the month. By the end of the month Mars will be rising around 10pm.
Still located among the stars of Gemini, Jupiter will be rising around 6:00pm at the beginning of February but by months end will enter the evening sky by 4:30pm. Even a small telescope will show the cloud bands on the planet and the changing positions of the four Galilean moons. The program “Jupiter 2” can be downloaded free from the net and is an excellent way of identifying the Galilean moons and gives an accurate position of the Great Red Spot. On the 11th the Moon will be
to the south of the planet.
Still a resident of Libra, Saturn rises at 1:00am early in the month but by the end of the month will rise almost two hours earlier. There will be an occultation of Saturn by the Moon on the morning of the 22nd of February visible from New Zealand and most of Australia.
* There will be five occasions this
century when there will be no New Moon in the month of February. This is the first of them.
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The Planets for March 2014
This is a great month to observe the elusive Mercury as it climbs further from the Sun in the predawn sky. It will reach its greatest elongation west of the Sun on the 14th when it will rise over two hours before the Sun. The planet Neptune will lie just over 1
degree to the north of Mercury on the 23rd and the thin waning crescent Moon passes 6
degrees to its north on the 29th of the month.
Shining brightly in the early morning dawn sky, the “Morning Star” is hard to miss at the beginning of the month as it resides in the sparsely populated area between Capricornus and Sagittarius. It passes into Capricornus on the 7th, crossing the corner of Aquarius from the 23rd to the 27th and back into Capricornus on the 28th. On the 23rd it reaches its greatest elongation west of the Sun and the waning crescent Moon will rise just before the Sun on the 27th.
The Earth is at the southern hemisphere’s autumnal equinox on the 21st when for people living on the equator the Sun will rise due east and set due west of them and the length of day and night will be equal.
The red planet is rising around 10:00pm as March begins and firmly entrenched among the stars of Virgo for the entire month. It does not stray too far from Virgo’s brightest star Spica during the month and is easy to differentiate between the pair by their contrasting colours. Mars is quite a dull red colour while Spica is a brilliant white star and a full two magnitudes fainter than the planet. On the 19th the waning gibbous Moon accompanies the pair.
Perched between the stars marking the stick figures of the Gemini twin, the giant planet is in a great position for observation this month. By nightfall the planet is already high in the northern sky having crossed the meridian around 7:00pm in the middle of the month and setting around midnight. The waxing crescent Moon passes 4
degrees to the south of Jupiter on the 10th of the month.
The magnificent ringed planet rises at 10:00pm as March begins but almost two hours earlier by the end of the month. It remains on the scales of Libra for the full month as if not believing that for its size it could be so light, being able to float if a pond of water large enough could be found for it to hop into. The waning gibbous Moon will be close by on the 20th and 21st of the month.
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