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The Sky This Month - February 2008

Posted in
Written by Gary Boyle, Ottawa on
Post Date: 
Fri, 2008/02/01

The Twins and an Orangey Moon

Ranked as the seventeenth and twenty-third brightest stars, the guide posts to the Twins of Gemini are now located high in the night sky. Their names respectively are Pollux and Castor and shine at magnitudes 1.14 and 1.57. Pollux is a giant orange star that seems to have a hot outer corona like out Sun. It does possess a fainter companion too close to be resolved by amateur telescope. Although it is brighter than Castor Bayer for some reason gave the designation of alpha (the brightest) to Castor. With a good telescope, three of Castor’s stars can be resolved; however these are really three double stars giving us a total of six suns that appear as one to the unaided eye.

 

 

The true showpiece lying within the Twin’s borders nestled down at the right foot is M35. Taking up the same area as the full Moon, this magnitude 5.3 gem of an open cluster is located close to a much dimmer but dense open cluster – NGC 2158. This tiny bundle of stars measures one sixth its neighbour’s area. M35 is an easy target for binoculars and shows up well on wide angle photography. Its population is listed in the hundreds.

Moving further west we come to IC 2157 and IC 2156 two smaller open clusters. IC 2157 contains a handful of stars and glows at magnitude 8.4. IC 2156 is located 5 degrees north of the brighter and richer IC 2157. Gemini has a number of galaxies including NGC 2339. This face-on structure is listed at magnitude 11.4 and measures a small 3 by 2 arc minutes.

A very scattered open cluster is labelled NGC 2331. This loose group lists as magnitude 8.4 and takes up half the area of the full Moon. Be sure to use a low power eyepiece of you might miss it.

For a challenge, move two and a half degrees north of Castor to locate NGC 2389 which is the brightest member at magnitude 12.8 of a chain of galaxies. Other members are NGC 2385, NGC 2379, NGC 2375 and NGC 2373. These tiny islands are in the 13 to 14 magnitude range. Another galaxy group resides within a degree of Theta Geminorum with the brighter two being NGC 2274 and NGC 2275 and are 13th and 14th magnitudes respectively.

 

 

One of the best planetary nebulas is the Eskimo Nebula – NGC 2392. The colour is just superb. The true nature of the structure is evident in images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. You can see that violent solar winds from the central star creating orange coloured striations about a light year in length. This is a fairly new object as it is estimated to be only 10,000 years old. Astronomers still do not understand the entire nature of this object.

Its time to get the camera gear and telescope ready and prepared to be dazzled. On the night of February 20th, the full Moon called the Snow Moon will slide into Earth’s shadow. The total lunar eclipse starts at 8:43 p.m. eastern ending at 12:09 a.m. This is something the whole family can enjoy. Let’s hope for clear weather for this great event.

Comet Holmes is staying pretty close to Algol in the constellation Perseus. It has now ballooned out to 1.5 degrees or three full Moons wide. It is best seem in dark skies and with the Moon out of the way for a couple of weeks, you should spot it with binoculars. It is however getting fainter by the week but should last through April.

The red planet Mars put on a good show this year and the planet behaved – no dust storms to block its surface detail. Our distance is increasing and the orangey star is shrinking and getting a bit fainter. The Moon and Mars separated by about a degree will set together on February 16th.

Saturn is the next solar system marvel to rise at a decent hour. It is now in Leo, some seven degrees east of Regulus. If you have a hard time finding it, Saturn will be about the Moon on the 21st of the month. In the telescope, you will notice from last year’s show, the rings are tilting inwards. This will continue till the September 2009 edge-on display. Saturn takes a little more than 29 years to circle the Sun. As it does, we see one side of the rings for 13 years then the other side the remaining 16 years. The last edge-on show was in 1995 when I witnessed the rings vanish as they only measure a kilometer wide.

 

Object

Type

Magnitude

Coordinates

IC 2191

Galaxy

14.8

RA:07h 30m 18.0s  Dec:+24d 18' 00"

IC 2196

Galaxy

14.1

RA:07h 34m  6.0s  Dec:+31d 24' 00"

IC 2198

Galaxy

15.1

RA:07h 34m  6.0s  Dec:+23d 58' 00"

IC 477

Galaxy

15.0

RA:07h 52m  5.9s  Dec:+23d 28' 00"

NGC 2266

Dense open cluster

10.0

RA:06h 43m 12.0s  Dec:+26d 58' 00"

NGC 2274

Round galaxy

13.0

RA:06h 47m 12.0s  Dec:+33d 34' 00"

NGC 2304

Dense open cluster

10.0

RA:06h 55m  0.0s  Dec:+18d 01' 00" 

NGC 2331

Scattered open cluster

9.0

RA:07h 07m 12.0s  Dec:+27d 21' 00"

NGC 2339

Round galaxy

11.4

RA:07h 08m 18.0s  Dec:+18d 47' 00"

NGC 2342

Round galaxy

13.2

RA:07h 09m 24.0s  Dec:+20d 38' 00"

NGC 2371

Planetary nebula

13.9

RA:07h 25m 36.0s  Dec:+29d 29' 00" 

NGC 2389

Round galaxy

12.8

RA:07h 29m  6.0s  Dec:+33d 51' 00"

NGC 2392

Planetary nebula

10.0

RA:07h 29m 12.0s  Dec:+20d 55' 00"

NGC 2398

Round galaxy

15.1

RA:07h 30m 18.0s  Dec:+24d 29' 00"

NGC 2405

Round galaxy

14.2

RA:07h 32m 12.0s  Dec:+25d 55' 00"

NGC 2411

Round galaxy

14.1

RA:07h 34m 35.9s  Dec:+18d 17' 00" 

NGC 2415

Round galaxy

12.4

RA:07h 36m 54.0s  Dec:+35d 15' 00"

NGC 2420

Rich open cluster

8.3

RA:07h 38m 30.0s  Dec:+21d 34' 00"

NGC 2435

Elongated galaxy

13.0

RA:07h 44m 12.0s  Dec:+31d 38' 00"

NGC 2481

Elongated galaxy

13.1

RA:07h 57m 18.0s  Dec:+23d 46' 00"

NGC 2486

Elongated galaxy

14.0

RA:07h 57m 54.0s  Dec:+25d 09' 00"

 

Venus is slowly sinking in the eastern skies as it rounds the Sun. The two brightest planets of the solar system will be a half degree apart on the morning of
February 1, low in the south east. Try photographing it using trees etc in the foreground.

There are no meteor shower scheduled for February but that does not mean you will see a piece of space junk light up the atmosphere when you least expect it. And finally if all goes well, the space shuttle Atlantis (STS-122) will lift off the launch pad on February 7th at 2:45 p.m. You can follow the preflight checks, launch, and briefings on NASA TV.

Until next month, clear skies everyone.

Gary Boyle