Evening Planets

As the sky darkens this month, Mars is the brightest “star” in the southwest sky of Aries, a region devoid of bright stars. You can’t miss the solo bright planet of the evening. Each night, Mars retreats from Neptune and treks toward Uranus. The two worlds will appear to be less than two degrees apart from Feb. 10 to 14. A young crescent moon will visit Uranus and Mars on Feb. 10. The closest passing of Mars to Uranus occurs on the night of Feb. 12, with a separation of about one degree. Mars (magnitude 1.05) will easily guide telescope observers to much dimmer (magnitude 5.8) Uranus.

After mid-month, Mercury begins a slow steady climb up from the setting sun. Look on Feb. 17, toward the western horizon about an hour after sunset, to spot a tiny “star.” That’s Mercury. Each night in late February, Mercury will gain a bit of altitude and brightness. Best nights to observe the elusive planet Mercury are Feb. 21 until Mar. 2. This is the best opportunity to see Mercury in the evening this year. It is rumored that the famous astronomer Copernicus never saw Mercury. Depending on the weather, a Mercury observing session will be hosted at the Morgan Observatory. Look at the observatory web site for details. Come see our first rock from the sun.

About every two months, Mercury is positioned in its orbit far enough to the right or left of the sun (elongation) to be glimpsed after sunset or before sunrise. The best Mercury appearances in the evening for 2019 include late February, late June, and mid-October. This month, Mercury will be at its highest altitude and brightness. The June apparition will be much lower altitude and much dimmer, as will October. The best chance to spot Mercury in the pre-dawn sky will be early August followed by late November and the least favorable chance in early April. On Nov. 11, Mercury will track across the disk of the sun (a transit of Mercury). The next transit of Mercury will occur in about 13 years on Nov. 13, 2032. Let’s hope we have a clear early morning this Nov. 11. It will be a busy year for Mercury observers.

Dawn Planets

Brilliant Venus begins a slow descent toward the rising sun late in February. Jupiter steadily pulls away from Venus, widening the gap from about 11 degrees tomorrow morning to about 30 degrees by month’s close. As Saturn continues to rise away from the dawn sky, the ringed world appears to encounter dazzling Venus as it heads down toward the sunrise. A wide conjunction occurs on the morning of Feb. 18 at about one degree apart. The two worlds seem to be less than 1 ½ degrees apart from Feb. 17 to 19. Fog permitting, take a look.

Super Moon

The nights of Feb. 18 and Feb. 19 brings the Snow Full Moon. This is the closest full moon for 2019 at 351,138 Km from earth at 12:11 a.m. of Feb. 19. Hence, the title of Super Moon. If you would rather enjoy the Snow Super Full Moon a bit earlier at 10:12 p.m. on Feb. 18, the full moon will be less than 1,000 Km (600 miles) more distant or only 0.28 percent smaller in apparent size. Super full moons typically appear about 10 percent bigger and 20 percent brighter than average full moons. Only a pure Super Moon fan might notice the difference. We will also have a Super Full moon in March but not as close as the Super Wolf Moon of February.

Morgan Observatory at U.C.C. (PMO)

Come to the observatory at 7 p.m. Feb. 11 to celebrate the International Union of Astronomers worldwide recognition of women in Astronomy. Clear or cloudy, a brief lecture will be given about famous Women in Astronomy. If skies are clear, winter and early spring deep sky objects including star clusters and nebula will be observed. Please check the observatory website at umpqua.edu/observatory for updates.

Observatory seating is limited and parking is available near the Tower Building at UCC. All events are offered without charge. Dress warmly and bring a blanket as winter nights can be very chilly at the observatory.

A second event to observe the planet Mercury will be hosted one night during the last week of February at 6:30 p.m. depending on clear skies. Look to the observatory website to see the date of this event.

Umpqua Astronomers Meeting — February 2019

Come at 7 p.m., Feb. 12 to UCC Wayne Crooch Hall Room 18 for the Umpqua Astronomers February 2019 meeting. Club news, monthly sky events and astronomy news will be presented. Use of the online imaging subscription service called SLOOH will be discussed.

A special program to help new owners of telescopes will be held at 6:30 p.m. Everyone interested in astronomy is welcome.

For more information visit, umpquaastronomers.org or call 541-673-1081.

Paul Morgan is an astronomer at Umpqua Community College.

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