What’s Up for February. Planetary pairs, just in time for Valentine’s Day.
Hello and welcome. I’m Jane Houston Jones from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
If you wake up early mid-month, you’ll see the moon glide by Saturn in the South-Southeast an hour before dawn. Keep looking over the next two mornings and you’ll see the crescent moon bookend Mercury very close to the horizon.
And those are not the only meetups between solar system bodies this month. Venus, traditional goddess of love, attracts Mars though their closest encounter happens a week after Valentine’s Day, on the 21st. On the 21st, the two planets are just half a degree apart; that’s the width of the moon.
Even through modest modern telescopes, today’s astronomers have a view that would have stunned Galileo. In 1609 Galileo learned of the invention of the telescope and began to make his own. Over the next months and years, he observed the moon, Venus, Mars, Saturn, several star clusters, sunspots on the sun, and Jupiter.
This is the very best month to observe Jupiter! It reaches opposition on February 6 and is visible all month long. Jupiter’s moons perform their ballet just as they did when Galileo observed them in 1610. Using modern telescopes, you’ll be able to see the moons pass in front of and behind one another as they march across the planet, casting tiny shadows.
It’s also a great month the view the Main Belt asteroid Juno through telescopes. You’ll find it near the pretty collection of stars known as the Beehive Cluster.
You can learn more about the history of the solar system and discoveries at solarsystem.nasa.gov.
And you can learn about all of NASA’s missions at www.nasa.gov.
That’s all for this month. I’m Jane Houston Jones.