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Tuesday, February 12, 2013


The Sky This Week - Thursday February 14 to Thursday February 21

The First Quarter Moon is Monday February 18. Jupiter is prominent in the evening sky and is occulted (covered) by the Moon on the evening of the 18th. Saturn is visible high in the morning sky. Venus is low on the horizon and is lost to view this week. Asteroid 2012 DA14 zips by on Saturday morning. Comet C/2012 F6 (Lemmon) continues to brighten and passes close to the Small Magellanic cloud.

Morning sky on Sunday February 17 looking east as seen from Adelaide at 3:00 am local daylight saving time in South Australia. The inset shows a telescopic view of Saturn at this time. Similar views will be seen elsewhere at the equivalent local time (click to embiggen).

The First Quarter Moon is Monday February 18.

Saturn is now readily visible above the north-eastern horizon before dawn. Saturn climbs higher in the morning sky, becoming easier to see.  Saturn rises shortly before midnight, so it is high enough to be worthwhile in a small telescope in the pre-dawn dark. Saturn is in the constellation of Libra.

Mercury  is lost in the twilight.

Morning sky on Saturday February 16 looking east as seen from Adelaide at 6:00 am local daylight saving time in South Australia (about 3/4 of an hour before dawn). Similar views will be seen elsewhere at the equivalent local time (click to embiggen).

Bright white Venus is now quite low above the eastern horizon, really only visible half an hour before sunrise and hard to see from cluttered horizons. This is the last week Venus can be seen before it is lost in the twilight.

Venus spends the week in Capricornius.

Comet C/2011 L4 PANSTARRS  is brightening, and has been (just) seen in the morning with the unaided eye, but is rapidly washed out by the advancing twilight. If you try looking an and a half hour before dawn you may see it very low above the horizon.

From the 14th the comet may be visible in the evening twilight to the east. The comet appears to be brightening more slowly than predicted, and it is not clear how bright it will be when it appears in the evening. To have a chance to see the comet you will need a fairly level, clear horizon like the ocean, and watch carefully as the twilight deepens. Binoculars may be needed to see it. For detailed viewing instructions see here.

In late February/early March this may be a good unaided eye comet.

Evening sky looking North-west as seen from Adelaide at 22:45 pm local daylight saving time on Monday February 18. this is just before the Moon covers Jupiter. The inset shows Jupiter's Moons at 10:48 ACST, just before Ganymede is covered by the Moon. Similar views will be seen elsewhere at the times indicated here.  Click to embiggen.

Jupiter is visible for most of the night, and is the brightest object in the evening sky.
on the evening of Monday February 18, most of Southern Australia will see the Moon cover (occult) Jupiter and its Moons. 

This occurs late in the evening, with the Moon relatively close to the horizon (except in Perth, where it is early evening). As the in un-illuminated half of the Moon covers Jupiter, this will be easy to see with the unaided eye, binoculars or a telescope (although of course a telescope is best). if you are using binoculars, stabilise them on a chair or fence (or a binocular mount if you have one) so that the image doesn't wobble all over the place.

Exact timings for the disappearance and reappearance of Jupiter for various cities can be found here. Note that Ganymede disappears before Jupiter, so start watching earlier. It is always best to set up at least half an hour beforehand, so your eyes can adapt to the darkness, and you can orient yourself and set up any equipment that you may have. 

The rest of Australia sees the pair very close together, which will look marvellous in its own right. 

Jupiter is prominent in the northern early evening sky, being quite visible in the twilight. Jupiter is highest in the north by 8:00 pm, setting around 1 am. Jupiter is below the Hyades, near the red star Aldebaran. Jupiter remains near Aldebaran during the week, making it look as if the Bull has two eyes.

Jupiter, Aldebaran and the white star Rigel in Orion form a long line in the sky. With the Pleiades cluster and the constellation of Orion close by, this is a beautiful sight.

Now is a perfect time to observe Jupiter with a telescope of any size in the evening. Jupiters' Moons are easily seen in binoculars, and can be followed from night to night changing position.

Mars is lost in the twilight.

Asteroid 2012 DA14 as seen from Adelaide at 5:00 (5:00 am) ACDST, facing west. The crosses mark the location of the asteroid at the indicated times, and its magnitude at selected times. at 5:30 the asteroid will be in the base of the constellation crater, the cup. Similar views will be seen from other locations at the equivalent local time (click to embiggen).

Asteroid 2012 DA14 zips across our morning skies on Saturday February 16. It will be bright enough to see in binoculars before astronomical twilight in Adelaide (5:19 am), and is at its brightest just after nautical twilight (5:52 am). After this the sky is too bright to see the asteroid (and it is too low). Similar views will be seen in central and Western Australia, with Western Australia having the best views. From most of the east coast the asteroid is too deep in twilight for the asteroid to be picked up in binoculars.

Because the asteroid is so close, there is a big difference in its location from different parts of Australia. Binocular users should get charts from Heavens Above specific to their location, telescope users should get an ephemeris from the Minor Planet Centre, specific for their latitude and longitude, and use this in conjunction with charting programs. The asteroid is visibly moving (like a very slow satellite), so should be relatively easy to spot.

Comet C/2012 F6 Lemmon's location as seen from Adelaide at 22:00 ACDST on Thursday 14 February. The location of the bright globular cluster 47 Tucanae is indicated.  Similar views will be seen elsewhere in Australia and New Zealand at equivalent local times.  (click to embiggen).

Comet  C/2012 F6 (Lemmon) is a nice little binocular comet. The best view of this visit occurs this week when the comet will pass close to the Small Magellanic Cloud on February 14-15.

 It is brightening rapidly, and is visible to the unaided eye in dark sky locations. You will need to use binoculars in suburban locations though, and to see it at its best you need a telescope or binoculars.

For charts, printable spotters maps and observing hints, see this page.

There are lots of interesting things in the sky to view with a telescope. If you don't have a telescope, now is a good time to visit one of your local astronomical societies open nights or the local planetariums.

Printable PDF maps of the Eastern sky at 10 pm AEDST, Western sky at 10 pm AEDST. For further details and more information on what's up in the sky, seeSouthern Skywatch.

Cloud cover predictions can be found at SkippySky.


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