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Observatory

What’s In February’s Night Skies

Planets

Venus is viewable in the early evening and through February will move from the Aquarius (The Water Bearer) Constellation to the Pisces (The Fish) Constellation. It’ll set at the beginning of the month at 09:17 pm (AWST) and by the end of the month at 08:48 pm (AWST). Mars can be seen in the early morning. The planet starts off at the beginning of February in the Libra (The Scales) Constellation as an orange dot and rising at 01:42 am (AWST) and will move through the Ophiuchus (The Serpent-bearer) Constellation and into the Sagittarius (The Archer) Constellation by the end of the month where the planet will set at 01:13 am (AWST).

Jupiter can be found in the Sagittarius (The Archer) Constellation in our early morning sky this month. Jupiter will rise at the beginning of February at 03:28 am and will rise at 03:31 am (AWST) by the end of February. Saturn can also be found in the Sagittarius (The Archer) Constellation in our early morning sky this month. Saturn will rise at the beginning of the month at 04:22 am and will rise at 02:46 am (AWST) by the end of February.

Uranus will be viewable in the evening in between the Constellations of Pisces (The Fish), Cetus (The Sea Dragon) and Aries (The Ram). At the start of February, the planet will set around 11:05 pm (AWST) at the beginning of February and by the end of the month, it’ll set around 09:18 pm (AWST).

Venus and Uranus on the 15/02/20 at 08:30 pm. Image Credit: Stellarium Mars, Jupiter and Saturn on the 15/02/20 at 04:00 am. Image Credit: Stellarium

Conjunctions and Occultation

Conjunctions involve objects in the Solar System, and more distant objects, such as a star. It’s an apparent phenomenon caused by the observer’s perspective where multiple objects that aren’t close together appear close in the sky.

In an occultation, an object passes across the line of sight between an observer and another object. A solar eclipse is an occultation of the Sun by the Moon.

  • 04/02/20 – Conjunction of The Moon and Aldebaran (Where to look)
  • 07/02/20 – Conjunction of The Moon, Castor and Pollux (Where to look)
  • 10/02/20 – Conjunction of The Moon and Regulus (Where to look)
  • 14/02/20 – Conjunction of The Moon and Spica (Where to look)
  • 17/02/20 – Conjunction of The Moon and Antares (Where to look)
  • 19/02/20 – Conjunction of The Moon and Mars (Where to look)
  • 20/02/20 – Conjunction of The Moon and Jupiter (Where to look)
  • 21/02/20 – Alignment of The Moon, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn (Where to look)
  • 27/02/20 – Conjunction of The Moon and Venus (Where to look)

Astronomical Events:

The Alpha Centaurids Meteor Shower:

Yeah! The first meteor shower of the year for the Southern hemisphere is upon us. While the Alpha Centaurids is a relatively minor meteor shower, it’s an excellent excuse to get outside with a chair and a beer or Milo and watch the sky.

Observers in 1974 and 1980 reported seeing rates of 30 meteors per hour, but rates for this meteor shower have been slowly falling, no matter where you live in the Southern Hemisphere. You should expect to see approximately six meteors per hour, in the hour before dawn, and around two per hour before then. It may be worse this year because the Moon is close to its Full Moon phase.

The Alpha Centaurids usually produce meteors of swift streaks, due to the meteors travelling at about 56 km/sec, so don’t expect to see many fireballs, if any.

M. Buhagiar (Western Australia) first observed The Alpha Centaurids meteor shower between 1969 and 1980 and listed the shower in his “Southern Hemisphere Meteor Stream List” of 1980.

During 1979, members of the Western Australian Meteor Section (WAMS) also managed to observe the meteor shower between the 2nd to the 18th of February, with the peak night being on the 7th of February.

There is some thought that the Alpha Centaurids may have been detected by radar at The Adelaide Observatory during the 1969 shower when G. Gartrell and W. G. Elford detected two meteors in the vicinity of The Pointers while operating the radar system between the 10th and the 17th of February.

The meteor shower is active from the 28th of January through to the 21st of February, with the peak on the night of 7th/8th of February.

It is best to go outside from 12:30 am (AWST) onwards (although around 4 am would be best) and look towards The Pointers below The Southern Cross is the radiant point for the shower. There is a Full Moon during the peak night, so some of the fainter meteors won’t be viewable.

The Alpha Centaurids Meteor Shower on the 08/02/20 at 4:00 am. Image Credit: Stellarium Meteor fireball. Image copyright: Jure Atanackov

Things to Look at This Month:

Messier 46:

Messier 46 is an unusual open star cluster in that it appears to have a planetary nebula (NGC2438) embedded in it. The cluster is about 40 light-years across and located some 5,500 light-years away from Earth. There are an estimated 500 stars in the cluster, and most are around 300 million years old — very young for stars. While the planetary nebula appears to lie within M46, it is most likely unrelated to the cluster as it doesn’t share the cluster’s radial velocity. The star of this planetary nebula is a white dwarf with the surface temperature of about 74,700°C which makes it’s one of the hottest stars known to us.

Messier 46 on the 15/02/20 at 09:00 pm. Image Credit: Stellarium Messier 46 - Image Credit: Astro Bruce (http://astrobruce.weebly.com)
The Orion Nebula:

The Orion Nebula is a diffuse nebula situated north of Orion’s Belt (In the southern hemisphere) in the constellation of Orion. It is one of the brightest nebulae in our skies and is visible to the naked eye. Messier 42, as it’s also called, is located at a distance of 1,344 light-years away from our Solar System and is estimated to be 24 light-years across. The nebula has revealed much about the process of how stars and planetary systems are formed from collapsing clouds of gas and dust.


Orion Nebula on the 15/02/20 at 09:00 pm. Image Credit: Stellarium

The Orion Nebula - Image credit: wallpaperswide.com
Eta Carinae and the Carina Nebula:

Variable brightness and Colour, Eta Carinae is one of the most remarkable stars in the heavens. When we say “Eta Carinae” we refer to the star itself which for Perth is a circumpolar star (We see the star all year round) and not the nebula.

Eta Carinae is 100 times the Sun’s mass and 4 million times brighter, those this brightness has been unstable with the star being recorded over the past 300 years between magnitude -0.8 which is as bright as Canopus and +7.9. It’s a star that’s sometimes in the news as it’s expected to become a supernova within the next 1 million years and will be a spectacular sight when it occurs, being visible by day and possibly bright enough to read by at night.

Eta Carinae is very likely a binary star with the smaller partner orbiting in a highly elliptical orbit of 5.5 years. The Carinae Nebula (NGC 3372), which surrounds Eta Carinae, is a large, bright star-formation region which has produced a number of very massive stars including Eta Carinae. At around 260 light years the Carina Nebula is around 7 times the size of Great Orion Nebula, but due to its greater distance, it only spans twice the width. There are many O-type stars, young (~2 million years), hot and bright that energise the entire Eta Carinae nebulae.

Carina Nebula on the 15/02/19 at 09:00 pm. Image Credit: Stellarium The Carina Nebula. Image Credit: Roger Groom Eta Carinae. Image Credit: NASA
Tarantula Nebula:

The Tarantula Nebula is an Emission Nebula, found in one of our galaxy’s satellite galaxies, the Large Magellanic Cloud. The nebula is approximately 160,000 light-years away from our Solar System and is 300 light-years across.

An extremely luminous object, the Tarantula Nebula’s luminosity is so great that if it were as close to Earth as the Orion Nebula, the Tarantula Nebula would cast shadows and take up 20% of the horizon.

As one the most active starburst region known in the Local Group of galaxies, the Tarantula Nebula resides on the leading edge of the Large Magellanic Cloud where ram pressure is stripping, and the compression of the interstellar medium likely resulting from this is at a maximum.

Tarantula Nebula on the 15/02/20 at 09:00 pm. Image Credit: Stellarium NGC 2070 Tarantula Nebula. Image Credit & Copyright: Peter Ward (Barden Ridge Observatory)
47 Tucanae:

47 Tucanae or NGC 104 is the second largest and second brightest globular cluster in Milky Way. The Globular cluster is 16,000 light-years away from us and is located in Constellation Tucana (Named after the Tucan bird) and it’s a naked eye ‘star’ and clearly visible in binoculars as a ‘fuzzy blob’. 47 Tucanae contains at least 1 – 2 million stars and the cluster has a diameter of roughly 120 light-years and the stars are roughly 10 billion years old. The average distance between the stars at the centre is around 10% of a light year or more than 100 times the diameter of our solar system. In February 2017, indirect evidence for a likely intermediate-mass black hole in 47 Tucanae was announced.

47 Tucanae on the 15/02/20 at 09:00 pm. Image Credit: Stellarium 47 Tucanae. Image Credit & Copyright: Mike O'Day

Phases of The Moon:

February 2020 Moon phases

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