The Moon will be New on February 1st, and Full on February 16th, near Regulus in Leo that night. The very thin waxing Moon is below Jupiter on the 2nd, above it to the left on the 3rd, and from the 8th to the 10th the Moon passes between the Hyades and Pleiades clusters in Taurus. The waning crescent Moon is near Venus and Mars on the morning of February 26th.
The planet Mercury is low in the morning sky in February, below Venus to the left and rising about 6.15 a.m.. Mercury is at its furthest from the Sun on February 26th.
Venus rises about 5 a.m. and is brilliant through the month, brightest on the 12th and nearest to the Moon on the 27th.
Mars rises at 5.30a.m., in Sagittarius, below and to the right of Venus, moving left during the month, closest on the 7th. Venus and Mars are to the left of the waning crescent Moon on the 26th,.
Ceres, the largest of the Asteroids, is in Taurus and very near the Moon on 9th February, by which it will be occulted, though the event is visible only from around the Indian Ocean.
Jupiter is still in the evening sky for the first half of February, setting around 6.30 p.m., to lower right of the crescent Moon on the 3rd.
After passing conjunction on the far side of the Sun on February 4th, Saturn, also in Capricornus, reappears in the morning sky about 6.15 a.m., to the left of Venus and much fainter, also somewhat fainter than Mercury. Saturn is near the Moon on the 28th.
Uranus in Aries sets around midnight. On February 7th it will be particularly easy to spot with binoculars because it will be on the line of the lunar terminator (the division between sunlight and darkness), about three lunar diameters above it to the right.
Neptune in Aquarius sets at 7.30 p.m., near the Moon on the 3rd.
The James Webb Space Telescope
After launching successfully on Christmas Day, by January 8th the James Webb Space Telescope had deployed its solar panel, high-gain antenna, sunshades, secondary and primary mirrors. The deployments, which involved hundreds of separate operations, went without a hitch. In the next phase the mirror segments were all freed from the clamps which restrained them during launch, and were slowly and carefully moved forward by a few millimmetres per day. On January 20th, the last two mirrors had only 6 mm. left to travel, completed later the same day. The telescope, which will be working mainly in the far infrared as a successor and complement to the Hubble Space Telescope, took up orbit on January 24th at the L2 point, a million miles beyond the Earth on the far side from the Sun. It will take 100 days to cool the telescope to operating temperature, though it was already below minus 200º C by January 26th. It will take five to six months to align the mirror segments and fine-tune the instruments. Initially it was announced that calibration would be done using star clusters in the Large Magellanic Cloud, near the South Ecliptic Pole, but now it seems initial calibration will be using HD 84406, a 6.9-magnitude star in Ursa Major, near the North Ecliptic Pole. As the Ecliptice marks the plane of the Earth’s orbit, projected on to the sky, the JWST’s sunshades must always be perpendicular to it, and as the telescope can rock by 15 degrees while remaining in shadow, the Ecliptic poles will always be visible from it.
The 26th January meeting of the Astronomers of the Future Club has had to be postponed due to current practical difficulties, and the February speaker, on Wednesday 23rd at 7.15 p.m., at the RSAS Barassie Works Club, 4 Shore Road, Troon KA10 6 AG, will be Prof. Michael A. Garrett of Jodrell Bank. The subject has still to be arranged. For more information, contact Alan Martin on 07947-331632.
Duncan Lunan’s most recent book, The Other Side of the Interface, was published by Other Side Books at the beginning of 2021, and is available through Amazon or through bookshops, or from the publishers. For details and for his other books see Duncan’s website, www.duncanlunan.com.
Duncan Lunan has an astronomy series published in The Orkney News. Here is the latest: Stars and Nebulae