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Night Sky Guide February 2014

Tonight’s Sky: February 2014

Your guide to constellations, deep-sky objects, planets and events, Tonight’s Sky, Highlights of the February Night Sky

Evening Planets

After the Sun sets on these cold February days, look for a bright “star” blazing high overhead. This is actually not a star at all but the planet Jupiter.
A telescope will provide a better view.
Mars rises in the east late in the evening. The ruddy planet will climb higher into the sky throughout the night.

Constellations and Deep-Sky Objects

The winter night sky, filled with brilliant stars, presents one of the best celestial views.
Orion, the Great Hunter of Greek mythology, dominates the winter sky. This constellation is among the easiest to recognize. It is full of young stars, dying stars, and many nebulae.
Betelgeuse, one of Orion’s “shoulders,” is a red supergiant star about 650 times bigger than the Sun. It shines with the brightness of tens of thousands of Suns.
Betelgeuse is near the end of its life. With the fuel at the star’s core practically depleted, the core has contracted and heated, causing the outer gaseous layers of the star to swell.
Rigel, one of Orion’s “knees,” is a triple-star system made up of two smaller stars orbiting a blue supergiant. Rigel’s blue supergiant star has a short lifespan.
Blue supergiant stars are much hotter than our Sun and use up their fuel quickly.
Orion’s Belt is easy to spot. It is made up of three stars, Alnitak, Alnilam, and Mintaka.
From the left side of Orion’s Belt, look down to the Great Orion Nebula. Although barely visible to the naked eye, it is the brightest diffuse gas cloud in the night sky. (“Nebula” is Latin for “cloud.”) A small telescope unveils the details and grandeur of the nebula.
Embedded inside the Orion Nebula is the Trapezium, a group of hot young stars so brilliant they cause the surrounding gas to glow.
Canis Major, the Great Dog, is the faithful companion who follows in Orion’s footsteps. Canis Major is dominated by the most brilliant star in the night sky, Sirius.
Sirius is actually a double system, containing a bright star and a much smaller and fainter companion. It is a mere 8.6 light-years away.
Scanning with binoculars just below Sirius will reveal a lovely cluster of stars called M41. It contains about 100 stars, including several red giants.
Stars in clusters like M41 were born together and are all about the same age.

Morning Planets

Saturn rises well after midnight and climbs higher throughout the early morning hours.
Use a telescope to spy its marvelous rings.
Before daybreak, look for Venus blazing over the eastern horizon. A telescope will reveal the planet’s crescent form.

The night sky is always a celestial showcase. Explore its wonders from your own backyard.


Produced by the Space Telescope Science Institute, Office of Public Outreach
Starfield images created with Stellarium
Mythological constellation forms from Firmamentum Sobiescianum sive Uranographia by Johannes Hevelius, courtesy of the United States Naval Observatory
Jupiter image courtesy of Todd Gross
Mars image courtesy of Matt Wedel
Orion Nebula image courtesy of Pieter Vandevelde, Bruges, Belgium
M41 image courtesy of NOAO/AURA/NSF
Saturn image courtesy of John Endreson
Venus image courtesy of Mario Weigand
Narrated by Nancy Calo
Music written by Jonn Serrie
Lucy Albert, Greg Bacon, John Bintz, John Godfrey, and
Vanessa Thomas

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