Astronomy: What to look for in the Essex skies in February
James Abbott, North Essex Astronomical Society
- Credit: James Abbott
James Abbott of North Essex Astronomical Society on what can be seen this month.
Daylight expands rapidly through February and by the end of the month the Sun rises at 6.45am and sets at 5.35pm.
Daylight increases by four minutes each day and the Sun reaches 30 degrees above the horizon at midday by the end of February. This is double its height at the Winter Solstice.
Jupiter becomes lost in evening twilight this month as it starts to pass ‘behind’ the Sun as seen along our line of sight.
Venus is a bright pre-dawn object throughout the month, low down in the South East.
Full Moon is on the night of February 16. The January ‘Wolf’ Full moon coincided with some clear skies. For February we have the ‘Snow’ Full Moon.
The best periods for star gazing in darker skies will be early and late in the month.
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The constellation of Orion ‘The Hunter’ is due South at 7pm in late February, followed by the ‘Dogs’ of Canis Major and Minor.
Canis Major (Greater Dog) contains the brightest star in the sky, Sirius, and is located to the lower left of Orion.
This constellation does look a bit like a dog, but Canis Minor (Lesser Dog) to the left of Orion is simply made up of the bright star Procyon and a scattering of faint stars – and so is one of the least sensible of the ancient constellations in terms of what it is supposed to represent.
The bright stars of Sirius and Procyon along with Betelgeuse in Orion make up the ‘Winter Triangle’.
Both Procyon and Sirius are binaries, with their companions being white dwarf stars - tiny hot and dense remnants of stars that have run out of hydrogen fuel. A small piece of a white dwarf star the size of a sugar cube would weigh several tonnes.
James Webb Space Telescope
In December the James Webb Space Telescope launched.
All its elements have been unfolded and locked into position.
This has been a remarkable achievement given the complexity involved. The telescope has now reached its final position about a million miles from Earth.
Over the coming months, scientists will be commissioning the telescope before it starts what will hopefully be years of service, observing deeper into space than ever before.