This winter has so far been an amazing time to take in the night sky with cool, dry, and clear nights on the Westside, where the Kauai Educational Association for Science and Astronomy (KEASA) hosts its monthly public star watches. Let’s go over some of the highlights that February will bring.
The easiest evening planet to find without a telescope is reddish Mars, getting lower in the West, closer to the setting sun but high enough to still be seen until about 10 p.m.
Those with a keen eye may find Mercury in the evening toward the end of the month, low in the west. Being the closest planet to the sun, Mercury always follows or precedes the sun closely from Earth’s point of view, and so will always only be visible soon after sunset or soon before sunrise.
The best time to find it in late February will be about a half hour after sunset, when the sky is dark enough for it to stand out, but Mercury is still high enough above the horizon to be seen. Planet hunters would do better to wake up early. Jupiter will be seen high each morning in the East, while Venus appears to move lower.
Saturn joins the show towards the middle of the month, passing Venus at about 2 full moon widths on the morning of Feb. 18. Saturn is much dimmer than Venus or Jupiter, but still bright enough to be found before dawn with the naked eye.
The featured constellation this month is Gemini, the twins, found high overhead in the evening throughout February. Gemini is just northeast of Orion, which we described last month, and noted by its bright stars Castor and Pollux.
In Hawaiian, these stars together are known as Namahoe (“the twins”), and gave Kauai’s newest Hawaiian voyaging canoe its name, inspired by the twin hulls.
Although Castor appears as a single star to the naked eye, it is actually a six star system, and through a telescope you can easily see them separated into two groups! Within the constellation Gemini is the open cluster M35, seen through binoculars
Moving south from Gemini, you can find the bright star Procyon, part of Canis Minor (“little dog”), then a region with relatively few bright stars where lies the constellation Monoceros, then farther south still the constellation Canis Major (“big dog”), containing Sirius, the brightest star in all of the night sky. Think of Canis Major and Canis Minor as hunting dogs trailing their master, Orion the Hunter. This part of the sky is near the plane of the Milky Way and rich with star clusters, nebulae, and double stars which KEASA astronomers can show you through our telescopes.
KEASA (Kauai Educational Association for Science and Astronomy) will be hosting its monthly public starwatch at the Kauamakani school softball field on Saturday, February 23. Check out our website at keasa.org for the full schedule. Come join us at sunset and bring a light jacket and a comfortable chair or blanket. Our astronomers look forward to sharing these objects and more through our telescopes. If the weather is in doubt
David Bickham is vice president of KEASA.