Asta's Almanac, is based on Whats Up, Ron? a monthly almanac for Northern American astronomersastras

Astra's Almanac

What's Up in the Night Sky?

February 2012 - Vol. 16, No. 2

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Features: Calendar | Lunar Almanac | Monthly Topic

This Month's Night Sky - NOTE: The next paragraph describes the sky as it appears at 10 pm EST (11 pm EDT) near mid- month. The sky also looks this way at 11 pm EST (midnight EDT) during the beginning of the month and at 9 pm EST (10 pm EDT) by month's end.

Angular Measurement Review: It is interesting to note that the relationship between the angle subtended by combinations of fingers on your fully outstretched arm are the same for all viewers. This is due to the fact that the hand's size is proportional to the arm's length. A shorter arm is attached to a smaller hand while a longer arm is attached to a larger hand, thus the angle measured remains the same. If you hold your arm fully outstretched, your little finger, when sighted down your arm, is one degree wide. Your three middle fingers is five degrees, your fist, 10 degrees, and the distance between your little finger and your pointer finger is 15 degrees no matter what your age or size.

Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky is now rising and marching across the sky after the great hunter, Orion shortly after sunset. The winter constellations are at their best on the coldest winter nights. The winter Milky Way can be seen from a dark site running through the constellations of Cassiopeia, Perseus and Gemini. Although the northern view cannot compare with the southern sky with brilliant Crux and Carina, it's still worth looking for it if you are at a dark site. The constellation Leo promises the folks in the north that Spring is just around the corner.

MERCURY is at superior conjuction with the sun early in the month, but begins to appear by the 18th. VENUS is making her appearence higher each night until reaching greatest elongation next month. Watch as the dance of the planets as Venus and Jupiter grow closer in the sky this month, at the begining on of the month, they are 40 degrees apart, with Venus closing it at 1 degree a day, until the two planets are 3 degrees part in mid-March.. MARS starts out the month, rises three hours after the sun and finishes the month by rise just after the sun sets. The planet has moved back into the constellation of Leo after marching intoVirgo. Mars' disk will keep growing until it reaches opposition on March 3.Still bright, JUPITER begins setting in the W around midnight. SATURN rises before midnight, following Mars. Saturn is another planetary dancer this year as we watch it and Mars moving ever closer until the two planets are as close as the get this year in August.

Calendar of Events

NOTE: For those observers not in the ET zone, convert the calendar times to your zone's time by subtracting one hour for CT, two for MT and three for PT. Don't forget to adjust for Daylight Savings Time when necessary by subtracting one hour from your planisphere's time.; Dawn and dusk times must also be corrected. See your local newspaper, TV news, or cable TV's Weather Channel for sunrise and sunset times. Unfortunately some of these events may occur during daylight hours in your area.

Full Moon, Mercury at superior conjunction.
Saturn begins retrograde motion.
Look W from a dark location, at about an hour after sunset, to view zodiacal light. ("Zodiacal light" is a vertical band of white light believed to be sunlight reflected from meteoriods found in the plane of the ecliptic, the apparent "path" of the Sun, Moon and Planets as they travel across our sky.) It will appear to be a very large, but very dim, pyramid of of white light, "leaning" to the left.
Spica, first magnitude star in the constellation Virgo, less than 2 deg N of the Moon.
Mars at aphelion, the farthest point from the sun in its orbit, see the article below on the 2012 opposition of the red planet. (Mars distance from the Sun: 1.66598 AU, 249.2 million km at opposition.)
Mercury 6 deg. S of Moon.
Jupiter 4 deg. S of Moon.
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Lunar Almanac for Febuary 2012

Phases of the Moon Phase and Date(s)

Best viewed before local midnight


Deep Space Objects

1st. Qtr
Jan 31

Planets & Moon



Qtr 14

Deep Space & Planets

Topic of the month: Mars Opposition 2012

Every 780 days, or roughly 2 years and 50 days, planet Earth passes Mars on its orbital track, lapping the red planet like horses at a race track. (Well, not quite like horses, both Earth and Mars have relatively stable orbits around the sun.) As noted above, Mars is at aphelion during this year's opposition, making this apparition of the red planet one of the least attractive. The planetary disk has been growing, and the planet will double in brightness this month, from -.05 to -1.2, but the disk will not get larger than 14-arc seconds. (At best, the disk grows to a size of 25-arc seconds during the most favorable opposition.)

During Mars opposition 2012, the northern hemisphere of Mars is experiencing late spring. The northern polar cap should be visible in an amateur telescope and may be shrinking as the northern hemisphere of the planet approaches summer solstice. Mars starts out in Virgo at the beginning of the month, but moves back into Leo as it moves retrograde to its usual course along the ecliptic. The retrograde motion is caused by the fact that the Earth is lapping Mars, a curious behavior that told ancient observers that there was something extraordinary about the planets.

Find out which side of Mars is visible while you are out viewing the red planet through a telescope. Sky & Telescope magazine features an interactive application, Mars profiler. Use this tool to find out what side of the martian surface is currently in your viewfinder. More information about Mars can be found on Astra's Stargate, on the Three Faces of Mars Page. You may also like to look at Jeffrey D. Beish's 2012 Opposition of Mars page.

--See You Under the Stars!
Astra's new almanac based on Ron Leeseberg's work

This installment of "Whats Up?" is ©2012 by Dawn Jenkins for Astra's Stargate. View Ron Leeseburg's Farewell Issue

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