Our Friendly Skies

February 02, 2009|By ROD MARTIN and ANDY SMETZE, Tristate Astronomers

Visible evening planets

Venus is very bright in the west.

Saturn rises in mid-evening.

Visible morning planets

Mercury is visible low in the southeast late in the month.

For more information about the visible evening planets and nighttime sky, download the planetarium's podcast "Skylights" from

Solar system

At magnitude -4.8, Venus is by far the brightest nighttime object except the Moon. It reaches its greatest brilliance this month as well as its highest sunset altitude. Its maximum brightness will be Feb. 19. Look at it through binoculars or a small telescope to see its crescent shape. This is one of the proofs that Galileo used to prove the Sun-centered model of the

solar system.

Saturn rises around 8:15 p.m. early in February and by twilight late in the month. It is in the constellation Leo the Lion all year. It is high in the south as morning twilight begins. The rings are now tilted less open than over the past year because of our viewing angles, so it will not appear as bright in the sky.


Jupiter and Mars re-emerge in the morning sky this month after passing by the Sun. They appear faint and low in the east just before sunrise late in the month. For good views of the planets, wait a couple months, but they will be very close to each other in February. They are separated by about the width of a full Moon during the last half of the month.

Mercury reaches its greatest western elongation in the morning sky Feb. 13. It is very low and tough to see, but check out the grouping of Mercury, Mars, and Jupiter Feb. 23. They will be less than four degrees apart.

February will provide a good chance to see the dwarf planet Ceres. This is the largest asteroid and closest dwarf planet to the Earth. It reaches opposition Feb. 25 at +6.9 magnitude, so you'll need at least a good pair of binoculars. It will be about 1.58 astronomical units from the Earth, which is about 140 million miles or so. This is the closest opposition since 1867 and it will be the closest until 4164. It will be just north of the hind quarters of Leo the Lion.

Sun and Moon

On Feb. 1, the Sun rises at 7:18, sets at 5:31 for 10 hours and 13 minutes of daylight. By Feb. 28, the Sun rises at 6:45, sets at 6:02 for 11 hours and 17 minutes of daylight.

The Sun enters the astronomic boundaries of Aquarius from Capricornus Feb. 16.

The moon reaches first quarter Feb. 2, full Feb. 9, last quarter Feb. 16, and new Feb. 24.

Brish Planetarium

2009 is the International Year of Astronomy. Four-hundred years ago, Galileo first pointed his telescope toward the sky and revolutionized astronomy.

His observations helped provide the proofs that the Earth revolved around the Sun instead of the other way.

The IYA is designed to promote awareness of astronomy and its importance to our society. Many events are planned by Brish Planetarium, Tristate Astronomers and Discovery Station. Download the special edition of "Skylights" from for a summary of activities.

A worldwide release of a Hubble Space Telescope image will be held at Discovery Station on Feb. 21. The event is cosponsored by the Brish Planetarium and Discovery Station with assistance from Tristate Astronomers. A daylong series of astronomy activities will be held that day.

The public planetarium program is "The Stargazer." The program will be presented through Feb. 24.

"The Stargazer" takes us on a journey to the stars and through the universe through the eyes of the noted astronomer educator Jim Kaler. Dr. Kaler's portion is taped and not live, but included in the program is a live tour of the night sky presented by Planetarium Director Rod Martin.

Programs are held Tuesday evenings at 7 when schools are in session, unless noted otherwise. Admission costs $3 for adults, $2 for children and students, and senior citizens with a WCPS gold card are free.

The Tristate Astronomers meet monthly in the planetarium. For more information about schedules and special events for the club, go to on the Web.

The planetarium is at the Central Offices of the Washington County Public Schools on Commonwealth Avenue off Frederick Street in Hagerstown.

The planetarium's Web site is and the phone number is 301-766-2898.

The Herald-Mail Articles