Culture

The Sky Above You – February 2021

By Duncan Lunan

The Moon will be New on February 11th, and it will be Full on February 27th

The planet Mercury is low in the west at the beginning of the month, setting about 6 p.m..   After passing between us and the Sun, at inferior conjunction on the 8th, it reappears in the morning sky in mid-February, with Saturn to the right and Jupiter below to the left, rising around 6 a.m. by the end of February.

Venus is not visible in February.  Venus is near Saturn on the 6th, but both are too near the Sun to be visible.   The Moon is near both and also Jupiter on the 10th and 11th, still invisible in predawn twilight.

Mars sets about 1.15 a.m. in February, growing fainter as it moves from Aries into Taurus on the 24th-25th.   On 18th February the crescent Moon passes Mars and the Pleiades, lying between the Pleiades and the Hyades open clusters the following night, and Mars will be three degrees below the Pleiades by the end of the month.

Three more space probes are due to reach Mars in February, to add to the small fleet already there.   The USA’s Perseverance lander is aiming for the crater Jezero, which shows extensive signs of ancient flooding;  it will test a small helicopter, the first flying machine in the atmosphere of Mars, and will begin collecting samples for retrieval by a later probe.  China’s Tianwen-1 orbiter will also set down a lander, and Hope, the first interplanetary spacecraft from the United Arab Emirates, will study the atmosphere from orbit.

Jupiter and Saturn are both in Capricornus, rising at 6.00 a.m. along with Mercury as above.  Just before the New Moon it will pass Jupiter and Mercury on the 11th.

Uranus in Aries  sets around midnight in February, near the Moon on the 17th.   

Neptune in Aquarius sets about 7.30 p.m., passed by the Moon on the 13th.

Heather Couper

For many years of this column, one of its major sources has been the annual Guide to the Night Sky by Heather Couper and Nigel Henbest, published by Collins.  I’ve known Heather since the late 1980s, during which time she has been a star of ITV astronomy and space programmes and she and Nigel have written a wide range of books.   Sad to say, the last entry in the 2021 Guide records Heather’s death in February 2020, a year ago, so perhaps it’s appropriate to mention it here.

Books by Duncan Lunan

Meanwhile my space travel stories, old and new, have now been collected and published by Other Side Books as From the Moon to the Stars, relating to the Moon and Project Apollo, and The Other Side of the Interface, with a wider scope.   Both have illustrations by Sydney Jordan, and are available through Amazon or through bookshops.  Details of them and my other booksare on my website, www.duncanlunan.com

For a download of the map:

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