January 27, 2013

What's Up in February: The asteroid that won't remind of what could be


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Sky Guide: This chart represents the sky as it appears over Maine during February. The stars are shown as they appear at 9:30 p.m. early in the month, at 8:30 p.m. at midmonth and at 7:30 p.m. at month’s end. Jupiter is shown in its midmonth position.

Prepared by George Ayers

Since it has a very similar orbit to the great Comet of 1680, Comet ISON actually may have been a part of that comet, which was even visible in the daytime.


Mercury and Mars can be seen close together low in the western evening sky 45 minutes after sunset during the first half of this month. Watch as a slender waxing crescent moon passes just above the pair on Monday night, the 11th.

When you look at the faint orange dot that is Mars, remember that we have had a giant remote-controlled robot up there for three months. The Curiosity Rover has traveled about a quarter of a mile and performed flawlessly so far. It has just discovered more evidence of water in some veined rocks below the surface. This water once flowed and percolated through this fractured terrain. Curiosity is now preparing for its biggest challenge, drilling into one of those rocks and analyzing its powder, which never has been done.

Jupiter still rules the night, high and bright in Taurus as soon as it gets dark. The king of the planets just ended its retrograde or westward motion, and is heading back eastward toward Gemini for the next eight months. The moon will again pass just below Jupiter around midnight on Sunday the 17th. You can see the four largest of its 62 moons through a good pair of binoculars. We even saw what looked like a fifth moon the other night, but it was slightly orange and slightly out of line with the four Galilean moons. The fifth one was just a star in Taurus.

Saturn rises around midnight in the constellation of Libra. Look for a last quarter moon just below the ringed planet one hour before sunrise on Sunday morning the third.

Venus can still be seen very low in the eastern morning sky just before sunrise for the early part of this month.


Feb. 3: Apollo 14 landed on the moon on this day in 1971. Alan Shepard and Edgar Mitchell were the two astronauts that walked on the lunar surface for that mission. Edgar Mitchell had many great insights on that trip, as did all the astronauts. He said, "We left the earth as technicians, we returned as humanitarians." Last quarter moon is at 8:56 a.m. EST.

Feb. 4: Clyde Tombaugh was born on this day in 1906. He discovered Pluto on Feb. 18 when he was just 24 years old.

Feb. 7: On this day in 1984, Bruce McCandless made the first untethered spacewalk.

Feb. 8: Jules Verne was born on this day in 1828.

Feb. 10: The new moon is at 2:20 a.m.

Feb. 11: On this day in 1970, Japan became the fourth country in the world to launch its own satellite.

Feb. 15: On this day in 1564, Galileo Galilei was born.

Feb. 16: On this day in 1948, Gerard Kuiper discovered Miranda, a moon of Uranus that is about the size of Texas. Sporting a giant chevron, Miranda looks like a patchwork quilt of features from many different moons.

Feb. 17: First quarter moon is at 3:31 p.m.

Feb: 19. Nicholas Copernicus was born on this day in 1473. He first theorized that we actually live in a heliocentric solar system and not a geocentric one. The Russian MIR space station was launched on this day in 1986. It survived for 15 years until March 2001.

Feb. 23: On this day in 1987, Supernova 1987a exploded in the Large Magellanic Cloud.

Feb. 25: Full moon is at 3:26 p.m. This is also known as the Snow, Hunger or Wolf Moon.

Bernie Reim of Wells is co-director of the Astronomical Society of Northern New England.

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