Skynotes February 2014

Month Highlights

After sunset Jupiter clearly stands out, shining brilliantly in the north. While during the early morning, it is Venus that shines brightly in the east. Mars and Saturn can also be seen in the morning sky towards the north and Mercury appears at the end of the month.

Planetarium Highlights

The Grigoryan Brothers perform Natural Satellite on 16th February

Back for an encore performance, Slava and Leonard Grigoryan will perform the astronomy-inspired guitar duet Natural Satellite. The event will be held at the Melbourne Planetarium at 8pm, Sunday 16th February.

The piece is inspired by the moons of our Solar System and makes a fitting tribute to celebrate the 450th anniversary of Galileo’s birth, which occurs this month.

Galileo was the first to see Jupiter’s four largest moons and the rings of Saturn through his early telescope. Planetarium audiences will be treated to amazing up-close views of these worlds, as they enjoy the stunning live music.

Tickets can be purchased online via the What's On.

Sunrise & Sunset Times

  Rise Set
Saturday 1st 6:33 8:33
Tuesday 11th 6:45 8:23
Friday 21st 6:55 8:11
Friday 28th 7:03 8:02

Moon Phases

First Quarter Friday 7th
Full Moon Saturday 15th
Last Quarter Sunday 23rd

The Moon will be at apogee (furthest from Earth) on Sunday 12th at a distance of 406,231 km.

The Moon will be at perigee (closest to Earth) on Friday 28th, at a distance of 360,438 km.

Let the Moon be Your Guide

The Moon can be used as a pointer to find other objects in the sky:

  • On the morning of the 2nd the waning gibbous Moon is near Spica (Virgo).
  • After sunset on the 7th, the First Quarter Moon is near the star cluster Pleiades.
  • The following night, on the 8th, the waxing gibbous moon is near the red giant Aldebaran.
  • The Moon joins Jupiter on the night of the 11th.
  • The Full Moon rises with Regulus (Taurus) on the night of the 15th.
  • The waning gibbous Moon is between Spica (Virgo) and Jupiter on the morning of the 20th.
  • The waning gibbous Moon is very close to Saturn on the morning of the 22nd.
  • The waning crescent Moon sits above Venus before sunrise on the 26th.
  • On the 28th, low to the east, the thin crescent Moon sits just below Mercury.

Planets

Mercury returns to the morning sky at the end of the month. It can be seen low to the east and on the 28th, the thin crescent Moon is below Mercury.

Venus shines brightly in the east during the early morning twilight. On the 26th, the crescent Moon is just above Venus.

Mars is high in the north at sunrise and remains close to Spica, the brightest star in Virgo. On the 20th, the Moon sits between the two.

Jupiter continues to shine brilliantly in the north, sitting amongst the summer constellations of Orion the hunter, Taurus the bull and Gemini the twins. On the night of the 11th the Moon is near Jupiter.

Saturn joins Mars high in the north before sunrise, with the magnificent constellation of Scorpius stretching out beyond the planet. The Moon is right next to Saturn on the 22nd.

Meteors

The alpha-centaurids and beta-centaurids are active from the 2nd through until the 25th, with a peak on the 8th. The two showers have distinct characteristics, but in practice it is difficult to distinguish between them. These showers are perfect for us as they occur near the bright Two Pointers that lead the way to the Southern Cross. Although the showers are not generally strong, they often produce many bright meteors including some fireball types and some leave fine persistent trails. On good occasions rates of 25 meteors per hour have been recorded although lower rates of around 6 meteors per hour have been more usual in the last decade.

Stars & Constellations

Orion, the hunter, can be seen high in the northern sky this month. This constellation appears upside down in the Southern Hemisphere and is best recognised as the Saucepan, with Orion's belt making up the base of the saucepan and Orion's sword as the handle. Above the saucepan is the blue-white supergiant star Rigel, one of Orion’s legs, and below it is the red supergiant Betelgeuse, marking Orion’s shoulder.

The Southern Cross and the Pointers are low in the south-east which means that the Magellanic Clouds, our two nearest galaxies, are high in the sky. Away from city lights, the Magellanic Clouds can be seen as two fuzzy patches, hence their name.

International Space Station

The ISS orbits the Earth every 90 minutes at an average distance of 400 km. The ISS appears as a bright star that steadily moves across the sky. It can often be seen from Melbourne, for example at:

6:15am – 6:22am, Tuesday 11th February.

The Station will appear in the north-west and travel by Venus before disappearing in the south-east.

Predictions of where and when to see the ISS can be obtained from the Heavens Above website.

On This Day

1st 2003, the Space Shuttle Columbia (USA) was destroyed as it re-entered the Earth's atmosphere.

2nd 1931, the first mail delivery by rocket was made in Austria.

3rd 1966, Luna 9 (USSR) made the first softlanding on the Moon, and transmitted the first images from the Moon.

3rd 1966, the USA launched its first operational weather satellite, ESSA-1.

5th 1974, Mariner 10 (USA) returned the first close-up images of Mercury.

6th 1971, the first golf ball was hit on the Moon, Apollo 14 (USA).

7th 1984, Bruce McCandless, from Challenger (USA) made the first untethered space walk.

11th 1970, Japan became the fourth nation in space with the launch of Osumi-5.

14th 1963, Syncom 1 (USA), the first geosynchronous satellite, was launched.

15th 1564, Galileo Galilei was born.

18th 1930, Clyde Tombaugh (USA) discovered Pluto.

19th 1986, MIR (USSR), the first permanent space station, was launched.

20th 1962, Friendship 7 carried the first American astronaut into Earth orbit.

23rd 1987, SN1987A, the closest and brightest supernova since 1054 was discovered.

24th 1968, Jocelyn Bell (UK) discovered the first pulsar.

27th 1942, JS Hey (UK) discovered radio emissions coming from the Sun.

 

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