F E B R U A R Y S K Y W A T C H
by Maya del Mar
After the sun sets in the west, and darkness is beginning to enfold us, look halfway up in the eastern sky for golden Saturn. Although Saturn is fading, it is still quite bright, and outshines the Gemini Twins, in whose vicinity it has been hanging out for months. The Gemini Twins, Castor and Pollux, stand to the upper left of Saturn.
Just to the right of this trio is the familiar constellation of Orion. They all climb up and into the western sky together as the earth rolls on through the night. Betelgeuse is the red supergiant in the left upper quadrant of Orion. Its name derives from the Arabic for "armpit of the central one."
Scorpio is opposite Orion (which neighbors Taurus). It sets in the west as Orion rises in the east, and Scorpio rises as Orion sets. Together they represent the theme of death and rebirth. Orion was very connected to the Egyptian pyramids, and the death-resurrection theme dominated Egyptian myth.
This mythology fits the astrological archetypes of Scorpio=Death, and Taurus (next to Orion)=Life.
Notice the Pleiades, the Seven Sisters, to the right of Orion and in Taurus. The First Quarter Moon passes right next to the Pleiades on the night of February 15-16. This is the first close encounter since the early 90s. But good news: the Pleiades and Moon will be close each month for the next few years. Later this year the Moon will cross in front of this beautiful cluster. The best views of a waxing crescent moon near this gathering of lights will come on spring evenings. We wont want to miss this.
Alcyone, the central star of the Pleiades, is in late Taurus. She is associated with vision, both inner and outer. Perhaps now we open to a new potential for insight and understanding. Spiritual and artistic channels may clear.
Saturn has 37 moons, at last count. Titan, the largest, is now being explored by Cassini, and pictures are coming back. With binoculars on a tripod, we could now track Titan through its whole 16-day orbit.
Big, bright Jupiter rises in the southeast around 11 p.m. at the beginning of the month. Moon is close to it then, and it will be close again on February 27. Jupiter is in the Virgo constellation, a little above Virgos bright (blue) star, Spica. Bright orangey Arcturus is a ways off to Jupiters left.
Red Mars rises about 5:00 a.m., but it is quite dim now. Look for it in the early morning of February 5, just above an old, thin crescent moon. This promises to be a beautiful sight.
Comet Machholtz is still considered bright enough to see with the naked eye, in a dark sky. The first 10 days of February, with little moonlight, will be best. Sweep with binoculars to the upper right of Cassiopeias big M. Have patience; it usually takes more than 20 minutes for the eyes to adapt to the darkness. The comet is moving towards Polaris, the North Star.