Highlights of the February Night Sky
Brought to you by: Bob Haskins @ Waterville Estates
Do your part and help preserve the dark skies that we are fortunate to have
in Waterville Estates. Please turn off all unnecessary outdoor lighting
Go outside tonight and discover the night sky
The Planets: Evenings on the “Ecliptic” The Sun and the planets all follow an imaginary path
in the sky called the ecliptic.
Dusk and into the night:
The glory days are over, at least until April, for the bright planets to shine in the night-
time sky. Jupiter and Saturn have moved to dawn and Venus is awaiting her return in a few
months from now.
Mars is the only planet visible during the month high in the night-time sky in the south. Look for
a reddish–like star.
Toward the end of the month you can spot Saturn and Jupiter low in the SE.
New on the 11th
Full on the 27th
Stars and Constellations
The constellation Orion “The Hunter” is one of the few constellations that vividly
suggests what it represents; in this case a mythological figure of a hunter with his club, sword by
his side and his shield facing the horns of a charging bull. Look for three equally bright stars, all
lined up in a row, in the south (see attached diagram). These stars represent his belt. His sword
hangs from his belt and his shield is held by his outstretched arm. The bright star Rigel below
the belt is his left foot. The fuzzy object in the sword is called a nebula (M42) or the Orion
Nebula (Google it). The reddish star to the upper right of the belt and near his shield is
Aldebaran, which represents the eye of Taurus the charging bull.
The bright star Sirius, the “dog star”, is located lower and to the left. If you are in the Estates it
should be dark enough to make out the stick figure of a dog standing on its hind legs (refer to
diagram). Sirius represents the head of the dog. Try and locate Pollux and Castor the “Twins”.
Look south and bend your head back. The two bright stars about 5° apart , 3 finger breadths at
arms length, represent the heads of the twins. Castor and Pollux were the mythical sons of the
ancient Greek god, Zeus. I have drawn the “Winter Hexagon” , which is called an asterism
(informal star pattern) in this month’s diagram which connects most of the important winter
stars. See if you can connect the dots. Also, see it you can spot the Milky Way running vertically
up to the zenith in the SE.
Our galaxy is a whole lot bigger than it looks. A new paper from Durham University in
England finds that the Milky Way stretches nearly 2 million light years across. This is 15 times
wider than its luminous spiral disk. This new number could lead to a better estimate of how
massive our galaxy is and how many other galaxies orbit it.
Astronomers have long known that the brightest part of our galaxy, the pancake-
shaped disk of stars that houses our Sun, is 120,000 light-years across. However, beyond this
disk is a vast halo of dark matter. Because the dark halo emits no light its diameter is hard to
Comment / Factoid of the Month
We live on a whiling ball of rock that rotates once every 24 hours at 1000 mph. The
reason we don’t notice that we are moving is that the Earth is huge and we are pinned to the
surface. We have evolved over many generations to think that the Earth is fixed and the sky
spins around us. That is why we say the Sun rises. The stars move across the sky because we
move under them.
Astronomy Websites to Explore
• heavens-above.com (satellites that are passing overhead)
• skymaps.com (The evening sky map for the month)
• spotthestation.nasa.gov (sign up for alerts for the International Space Station)