David L. Richards
Venus continues to brighten in the west, moving from Aquarius into Pisces early in February.
On Feb. 9, watch Venus and Uranus travel together, separated by only a quarter of a degree as they disappear below the horizon at 9:17 p.m. Uranus at magnitude 5.9 might be overwhelmed by the -4.1 magnitude Venus. I’d be interested in hearing your observations, and what instrument you use to spot this conjunction.
On Feb. 25, a 5-day-old moon lies only 3 degrees from Venus.
The last week of the month brings Mercury into view; it should be easily spotted in the western horizon at magnitude -1.2 around 6:45 p.m. At 7:30 p.m. Feb. 29, Uranus and Mercury are well within the field of binoculars; place Mercury at six o’clock at the bottom of the field, and Uranus will be the pale green dot at 10 o’clock.
Mars begins the month traveling across the border of Virgo into Leo in the east at 9 p.m., and continues to travel toward Regulus, the bright heart of the Lion. Jupiter sets 30 minutes into the first day of February in the west-northwest, in the constellation Aries, the Ram. A waxing crescent moon passes within 4 degrees of the giant planet on the evening of Feb. 26.
Saturn rises only 4 minutes into the day on Wednesday, not far from Spica, the brightest star in Virgo. The ring system is well tilted, and presents a beautiful sight in a 6-inch or 8-inch telescope at a magnification of about 200 times. While more than 170,000 miles in diameter, this complex system of at least seven major rings is for the most part only about half-a-mile thick.
Until Feb. 8, the planet appears to be moving away from Spica, but from that day on is in retrograde, moving back toward Spica. The waning gibbous moon, Saturn and Spica form a conspicuous trio in the early morning hours of Feb. 12.
Q: I read the article about the Kepler mission finding the first planet in what might be in a habitable zone of a sun-like star, but it mentioned that the planet might be “too big.” What does size have to do with it? — C.Z., Akron
A: If the planet is too large, it can retain hydrogen and helium in its atmosphere, and therefore be too hot and have too high pressure for water to remain in liquid form. Biologists believe liquid water to be necessary for life to evolve. In addition, a large amount of hydrogen changes the basic chemistry that leads to life as we understand it.
‘The 2012 Myth’ program
The Hoover-Price Planetarium is presenting an encore production of The 2012 Myth at 1 p.m. Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. The program was well received last year and remains of significant interest due to the rampant myths and concerns about 2012. The planetarium is included with admission to the McKinley Presidential Library and Museum. Call 330-455-7043 for information.
David L. Richards is director of the Hoover-Price Planetarium at the McKinley Presidential Library and Museum, 800 McKinley Monument Drive NW, Canton, OH 44708, www.mckinleymuseum.org. He can be reached at 330-455-7043 or email email@example.com.