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If not for the Moon, Jupiter would be the brightest object in
the sky until Venus rises in the early morning hours.
By David Baumgartner

Jupiter and Saturn continue to glow prominently in the long winter nights. If not for the Moon, Jupiter would be the brightest object in the sky until Venus rises in the early morning hours.

And that is saying something when you consider the fact the winter skies contain the most brilliant stars of the year. Saturn, not the brightest, certainly can hold its own in beauty especially when observed through magnification.

Saturn’s rings are most likely the best telescopic view in the heavens. This year we see Saturn tilted toward us showing off it’s southern face for the best view in 30 years.

Starting next year Saturn’s rings will begin closing, and by 2009 they will appear edge-on. All you will see is a fine line at the equator. Then slowly the northern half of the planet will show its face, and then it starts all over again.

Unfortunately a lot of us old boys won’t be around to witness it. But you younger guys have many stargazing years left. Don’t squander them away. Get out there at night and look up, enjoy the skies before you are one of those old boys yourself.

Constellation of the Month

As we mentioned, the winter sky sparkles with bright stars. Does it just seem this way because of the clear frosty air? No, the winter sky is just full of bright stars. Last month we learned about many of these stars in the constellation Orion.

This month we learn about a less conspicuous but still, nonetheless a well-known constellation, Gemini.

To find Gemini, just draw a line from the two brightest stars in Orion (Betelgeuse and Rigel) and go east. It will point directly at Gemini. You will see two very bright stars, Castor and Pollux.

Gemini is the Latin word for “twins.” The two stars are the heads of the twins, and their bodies are the two ragged lines of stars sloping down to their feet, which stand on the Milky Way.

Pollux is just a little brighter, and is slightly orange in color. In your telescope, Castor is one of the many double stars in the sky. It actually is a group of six stars close together.

Castor and Pollux were famous twin brothers in Greek legends. Castor was a wrestler and Pollux a boxer, and together they went on many adventures. There was hardly any difference between them, except that Castor was mortal and Pollux was immortal.

When Castor was killed, Pollux was so sad that he wanted to die too, but he could not.

The gods were so impressed by their brotherly love they let them live together in the sky for ever.

Get up early in the morning this month and you just can’t miss Venus shining as bright as she can. This second planet from the Sun will lose some of its brilliance as the month goes by. Take a look on the Feb. 27 when a small sliver of a Moon passes by Venus, which is at 75 percent lit. It makes for an interesting photo.

Mars stands to Venus’ upper right and 5 degrees from the star Antares in the constellation Scorpius.

Because of their size it is hard to tell Mars from Antares, and they both shine with the same shade of orange-gold. Antares is known as Mars’ rival because they are so similar.

But come this summer there won’t be any similarity at all, at least in size anyway, when Mars will have its best show of a lifetime. Astronomers around the world are eagerly anticipating this event.

To my liking, I am getting a new and larger telescope sometime in March. They are right when they say, “The only difference between boys and men is that their toys get more expensive when you get older.”

It just feels nice to see that I can still get excited about my hobby. I thought I had lost that ability to stand by the mail box everyday wondering if it is going to arrive today or not. Clear skies.

February Sky Watch

Saturday: New Moon.

Tuesday: Mercury at its highest.

Feb. 7: Moon is farthest from Earth (apogee-251,377 miles); a star looks like a satellite of Venus.

Feb. 9: First quarter Moon.

Feb. 10: From 6:28-6:40 p.m. Jupiter’s moon Europa passes directly in front of Ganymede, another moon of Jupiter. You can see it with small telescope.

Feb. 11: Moon passes 3 degrees north of Saturn.

Feb. 15: Moon passes 4 degrees north of Jupiter.

Feb. 16: Full Moon.

Feb. 19: Moon is closest to Earth (perigee-226,704 miles).

Feb. 20: Mercury passes 1.6 degrees south of Neptune.

Feb. 23: Last quarter Moon.

Feb. 24: Moon passes 1.9 degrees south of Mars.

Feb. 27: Moon passes 5 degrees south of Venus.

Feb. 28: Moon passes 5 degrees south of Neptune.

David Baumgartner is an avid amateur astronomer and local Realtor. His Sky Watch column appears monthly.

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