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Saturday, February 1, 2020

What's In The Sky - February 2020

Clear February nights present some great stargazing opportunities. Be sure to bundle up and keep warm while you get outside for some stargazing fun!

Here are a few of Orion Telescopes and Binoculars top picks for February stargazing:

New Moon

February 23rd should be one of the best nights for deep-sky viewing as the New Moon phase will provide the darkest night of the short month. Use Orion Broadband Filters to enhance your view.

On the evening of Monday, Feb. 10, Mercury (orbit is shown as red curve) will reach its widest separation, 18 degrees east of the sun. With Mercury sitting above a nearly vertical evening ecliptic, this will be the best appearance of the planet in 2020 for Northern Hemisphere observers. The optimal viewing times fall between 6 and 7 p.m. local time. Viewed in a telescope (inset), the planet will exhibit a waning half-illuminated phase. Image credit: Starry Night.
On the evening of Monday, February 9th, Mercury (orbit is shown as red curve) will reach its widest separation, 18 degrees east of the sun. With Mercury sitting above a nearly vertical evening ecliptic, this will be the best appearance of the planet in 2020 for Northern Hemisphere observers. The optimal viewing times fall between 6 and 7 p.m. local time. Viewed in a telescope (inset), the planet will exhibit a waning half-illuminated phase. Image credit: Starry Night.

Mercury High In The Sky

On February 9th, Mercury will be at its greatest eastern elongation, meaning it is at its greatest separation from the Sun. Mercury will be at an altitude of approximately 16 degrees when the Sunsets at 17:34 PST, making it an ideal time to observe this tricky target.

Planetary Lineup Get up early on President's Day, February 17th, to see a lineup of three planets and the Moon. At dawn, the crescent Moon and Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn will form a line spanning about 39 degrees in the southeastern sky.

Before sunrise on the next day, February 18th, viewers in North America can watch the Moon occult Mars! Better yet, try snapping a sequence of high-magnification pics of the event.

Betelgeuse In The News

Betelgeuse has been in the news lately since dimming down to a magnitude of around 1.5, the lowest brightness in more than a century. The red supergiant is normally variable, but the unusual dimming has brought up the question of whether a supernova is imminent. Betelgeuse is close enough that if it went supernova it would be brighter than the full moon, a spectacular astronomical event. However, the consensus is that this probably won't be happening soon. The best estimate is sometime in the next 100,000 years, so it is more likely that this variability is normal, and we've still got a few millennia before the light show.

It may not be as flashy, but if you want to see a supernova now astronomer Koichi Itagaki discovered a supernova on January 12th. Located in the galaxy NGC 4636 in the constellation Virgo, it should be visible with a 6" or larger telescope. Referred to as SN2020ue, it is currently at magnitude 12.1 and should be visible under dark skies at around 60-100x magnification as a dim star just outside of the galaxy's core.


Galaxies M81 and M82 in Ursa Major - 5 x 300 Second LRGB Image by Insight Observatory.
Galaxies M81 and M82 in Ursa Major - 5 x 300 Second LRGB Image by Insight Observatory.

Bright Galaxies

In late February, bright galaxies M81 and M82 will be about as high in the sky as they will get for North American stargazers. From a dark sky site, these galaxies are visible with a 50mm or larger binocular, but we suggest you use a large telescope to chase these galaxies down just off the leading edge of the Big Dipper asterism. Many observers consider M81 & M82 the best pairing of visual galaxies in the sky!

If you would like to receive image data of galaxies such as M81 and M82 and other deep-sky objects taken on the Astronomical Telescopes for Educational Outreach (ATEO), please visit Insight Observatory's Custom Image Data Request form.

All objects described above can easily be seen with the suggested equipment from a dark sky site, a viewing location some distance away from city lights where light pollution and when bright moonlight does not overpower the stars.

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