Celestial events in the skies for the week of Feb. 14 – Feb. 20, 2017, as compiled for The Loafer by Mark D. Marquette.
Valentine’s Week and the brightest stars of the season make a necklace called the “Winter Octagon.” Starting above Orion, the stars are red Aldebaran, yellow Capella, Castor, Pollux, Procyon, brightest star Sirius, Orion’s knee Rigel and shoulder Betelgeuse. And, you might be noticing that daylight is lasting a little longer. In fact, it is now good and dark at 7 pm—progress for those itching to play outside. But, hey, I prefer playing in the dark!
Tuesday, Feb. 14
Happy Valentine’s Day. And like a brilliant diamond, planet Venus shines at its brightest all year. In fact, if you get a very dark place, you can see Venus cast shadows on the ground! Setting around 9 pm, the second planet shows a crescent in a telescope.
Wednesday, Feb. 15
To the left of Venus is much fainter, red Mars. The fourth planet is currently being invaded by six earthling robots—four orbiting and two roving the surface. It’s an amazing time for Martian science.
Thursday, Feb. 16
The Sun enters the constellation Aquarius the Water Carrier, but astrology wrongly says the Sun is entering Pisces the Fishes, a constellation ahead.
Friday, Feb. 17
Directly north is the Big Dipper, standing on its three-star handle. As the night wears on, the Big Dipper will empty the contents of its four-star bowl over the landscape. These seven famous stars are just part of a much larger constellation, Ursa Major, the Great Bear.
Saturday, Feb. 18
On this 1930 date in astronomy history, Clyde Tombaugh discovered “Planet X” on photographic plates after two years of intense searching. Called the ninth planet Pluto until 2006, it is now classified as a “dwarf planet,” joining another dozen objects its size and larger that in a distant region called the Kuiper Belt.
Sunday, Feb. 19
The Moon is at Last Quarter today, rising around 3 am in the constellation Scorpius, the red star Antares below it. For early morning risers, bright yellow Jupiter is high in the east, the white star Spica creating a beautiful contrast.
Monday, Feb. 20
On this 1962 date in space history, John Glenn became the first American to orbit Earth in space, his three orbits in the Mercury spaceship making him a national hero. Born in Ohio and its US Senator for 25 years, Glenn also spent nine days aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery in 1998 at age 77, still the oldest human to travel in space. He died in 2016.