February - celestial gems in the night

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Here's John Moran, Education Demonstrator at the Planetarium, to tell us what to look out for in the night sky this month.


Orion - image courtesy of NASA.

There are still plenty of easily observable planets for your viewing delight this month. I came out of my house at 7.30pm a few days ago and there were three bright planets which seemed to be set up for anyone who can’t see the whole of the sky. There was Venus in the east, Jupiter directly above and Mars in the west. It doesn’t get much better than that! 

If that’s not enough, then later on we have the appearance of the ringed beauty Saturn which follows behind Mars in the west a few hours later. Me and a few colleagues went up on the fifth floor balcony of the of the museum on Friday 3 February and everything looked perfect. I set up two telescopes to view all of these planets and as soon as I started getting lined up on Venus, the clouds came along and just blanketed everything out! 

But we hung around for an hour and a half and got small breaks in the clouds every now and then. We got to see the Galilean moons of Jupiter and Venus at two thirds crescent. But I’ve got to say the star of the show was the often overlooked moon; the craters looked spectacular through the six-inch Newtonian telescope we had, with interchangeable eye pieces. 

As always I’ve been making the most of the constellation Orion. There is a night times worth of celestial gems in this one region and you are never disappointed. The Orion nebula always makes the hairs stand up on the back of my neck when I think of the countless Proto-planetary nebulae that are forming here. These are solar systems like our own that are in the process of forming. 

Imagine it, there could be some bloke just like me somewhere in the Orion nebula right now writing a blog, looking into the night sky in our direction and wondering what we look like. If that doesn’t fire your imagination then nothing will.