Venus and Uranus
Just after sunset on Thursday look to the west for the brightest object in the sky. This is the planet Venus and just to the left of it is the much dimmer and distant planet Uranus. The two planets will be in conjunction with one another and separated by less than 2/3 of the diameter of the full Moon. That is stated more accurately as the angular separation of 00o18’30”.
Venus’s physical properties for Thursday will be; Phase: 71.257% (which means Venus is just less than ¾ full), Apparent magnitude: -4.13. The physical properties of Uranus will be; Phase: 99.973%, Apparent magnitude: 5.91. It is not very likely that you would be able to see Uranus just by eye even in the darkest sky with bright Venus right there.
They are however close enough together that they would both be visible in the same view with binoculars. This is one of the advantages of having a highly visible landmark like Venus close by to help with the location and identification of the much less bright planet Uranus. Venus will appear bright white like a very small ¾ full Moon, while Uranus should appear as a very small blue-green disc but discernable from the point of light from a star.
Even more exciting, these 2 planets will be close enough together that they could be seen in the same view through a telescope and that sets up the possibility for imaging. That would make for a very rare image indeed. There will not be very much optimum time for imaging as the planets will be quickly heading to the horizon just a couple hours after sunset at 6:08 PM. The star chart to the right shows the planets at just 16o above the horizon by 8:00 PM. Depending on viewing conditions that will most likely be the end of the opportunity for a relatively good image.
Jupiter and the Galilean Moons
Still looking west but higher in elevation is the planet Jupiter in a perfect position for viewing. With binoculars or better with a telescope and higher powers there is a very good chance to resolve some of the planets details. The 4 Galilean moons of Jupiter, Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto should also be very prominent.
Jupiter’s moon count was just increased to 66 with the recent discovery of 2 new moons. Named S/2011 J1 and S/2011 J2, the new moons were first identified in images captured by the Magellan-Baade Telescope at the Las Campanas Observatory in Chile on September 27, 2011. For more on this please see Two New Moons Found Orbiting Jupiter by our fellow News Viner edmgeno.
The Star chart to the right shows Jupiter at an elevation of about 47o at 8:00 PM. Further overhead and to the south are some of the winter skies most popular constellations, The Pleiades, Taurus, Orion and Canis Major.
The Moon and Mars
Look to the east around 9:00 PM to find the Moon and Mars in conjunction with Denebola magnitude 2.14 forming a horizontal line about 9o above the horizon and rising, as in the image below.
The Moon will be full on February 7th and on the 9th at the time of the conjunction the Moon’s phase will be at 93.8%. Some popular names for the February full moon are; Full Snow Moon, Trappers Moon (Colonial American), Budding Moon (Chinese), Bony Moon (Cherokee), Little Famine Moon (Choctaw), and Moon of Ice (Celtic). More
Mars, the red planet is just 9o to the left of the Moon and is coming into prime viewing as the distance between Earth and Mars is decreasing until the beginning of March. Then the difference between Earth and Mars obits will take Mars further away and then eventually back close to Earth again in 2014. Mars magnitude will be at -.79 and the best viewing of the planet would be later in the evening as it moves higher in the sky.
Denebola a magnitude 2.14 star also known as SAO 99809 or Beta Leonis is the second brightest star in the Constellation Leo and is about 36.2 light years distant. Denebola is the tip of Leo’s tail and will be about 8¼o to the left of Mars.
With a bright star, the Red Planet and the Moon together for your viewing pleasure and Venus and Uranus close enough together to be seen in a telescope’s field of view, this is a night to plan for.
Updated February 8, 2012
Dusk on the 7th did not look too promising for watching the full moon rise but the clouds were breaking up here in Pompano. As the evening progressed the sky did clear except for out west, so I did not get to see Venus at all. I took the image below with my point and shoot just before 8PM and the inset was taken at 10:30PM when the moon was much higher. Not a good night for the Big Guns but the little ones worked just fine.
Binoculars gave me a wonderful view of Jupiter with the Galilean moons, The Orion Nebula in Orion’s sword, the Moon and finally Mars. Mars was beautifully red in the sky last night and once you have seen it there is no mistaking it. Panning the night sky with binoculars is a great way to familiarize yourself with the stars and constellations, the Pleiades are a great example. By midnight the clouds had returned and remain this morning with the likelihood of rain. The grass seems to like it.