The beautiful, ringed planet Saturn rules the night sky this month in the Name A Star Live constellation Virgo. You can use the Moon to find this astronomical jewel, and use just about any telescope to see its rings!
There will be a solar eclipse visible (weather permitting) to observers in East Asia, the North Pacific and most of North America on May 20 (May 21 for those of you in the eastern hemisphere). This will be an “annular eclipse” of the Sun where the Moon almost covers the entire disk of the sun, leaving a ring of sunlight surrounding the Moon.
Actually, the view you see in the image below will be visible only to people within about a 150 mile (240 km) diameter band that stretches thousands of miles from southern China to northern Texas. Most people in East Asia, the North Pacific and North America will see a partial eclipse of the Sun — where the Moon takes a ‘bite’ out of the solar disk. Still, it will be quite a show!
Note that the eclipse will not be visible at all from the East Coast of the United States.
Click here to see an animated map showing the motion of the solar eclipse over the surface of Earth on May 20. The red dot in the animation represents the locations on Earth where the complete annular eclipse (again, as shown below) will be visible. The shadowed area in the animated map represents the large area of Earth where the partial eclipse of the sun will be visible.
Of course, one should never look directly at the sun — even during an eclipse the sun’s light can cause permanent damage to your eyes. Check out this online guide to safely viewing an eclipse.
Sky & Telescope magazine has an excellent online guide to this eclipse that will provide more details. Of course, your local news media will undoubtedly provide viewing information for your locale.
The Planets in the Night Sky
This is a good month for viewing the planets Venus, Mars and Saturn. Venus is the ‘evening star’ — the bright point of light in the western sky during the early evening hours. The red planet Mars is in the Name A Star Live constellation Leo, near Leo’s star “Regulus,” and Saturn is in the Name A Star Live constellation Virgo, near Virgo’s star “Spica.”
Finding your star in the night sky
Stars are located within constellations, which are just areas of the night sky. Scorpius, Aries and Taurus are examples of constellations. Your Name A Star Live Star Certificate displays the name of your constellation. You can use our online World Constellation Guide to determine if you can see your constellation during the evening hours (between sunset and midnight). Of course, you’ll need a telescope to see your star. But you can see your constellation without the use of a telescope. You can also find your constellation by using our Virtual Planetarium™ astronomy software. A planisphere is another useful device.
The Moon provides a good guide to finding objects in the night sky. Here we’ll use the Moon as a ‘landmark’ to help you identify stars and planets in January 2012. Look for the red planet Mars rising over the eastern horizon, next to the Moon on the evening of February 9 (Feb. 10 for those of you in Australia, New Zealand, China, Japan…). That evening both Mars and the Moon will be in the Name A Star Live constellation Leo.
On the mornings of Feb. 12 and 13 (Feb. 13 and 14 for those of you in Australia, etc.), look for the planet Saturn near the Moon shortly before sunrise. Both of these celestial objects will be in the Name A Star Live constellation Virgo that morning.
Right after sunset on Feb. 22 (Feb. 23 for those of you in Australia etc.), look for a very thin crescent Moon near the planet Mercury. Both objects will be very low on the western horizon. The Moon will be in the Name A Star Live constellation Pisces, and Mercury will be in the adjacent Name A Star Live constellation Aquarius. Venus will be the very bright object above the Moon. Like the Moon, Venus will be in Pisces that evening.
On the evening of Feb. 25 (Feb. 26 for those of you in Australia etc.), the thin, crescent Moon will appear next to the planet Venus. Both objects will be in the Name A Star Live constellation Pisces that night.
The following evening, the Moon will appear next to the solar system’s giant planet Jupiter. Both will be in the Name A Star Live constellation Aries that night. You should be able to see Jupiter and up to four of its large moons through any telescope — even through a pair of binoculars. These four large moons move so quickly that if you observe Jupiter’s moons every few hours you’ll see that they change their position in relation to the planet. For example, if you observe Jupiter shortly after sunset you might see one or two of its large moons, but if you observe Jupiter a few hours later you might see all four of its large moons — or vice versa!
On the evening of Feb. 28 (Feb. 29 for those of you in Australia, etc.) look for the Moon next to the Pleiades (a.k.a. “the Seven Sisters“), a beautiful collection of stars in the Name A Star Live constellation Taurus. People often mistake the Pleiades for “The Little Dipper.” But the Little Dipper is in another constellation. Take a look at the Pleiades through a pair of binoculars: They are quite beautiful!
Finally, the following night the Moon appears in the Hyades, a V-shaped group of stars that form the head of the bull in the Name A Star Live constellation Taurus. The bright red star in the Hyades is called “Aldebaran,” a binary star only 65 light-years from Earth, which is pretty close in astronomical terms. You should be able to see the two stars in Aldebaran through a good amateur telescope (minimum mirror diameter of 6 inches).
When to go stargazing this month
Moonlight ‘drowns out’ the faint light of many stars and other celestial objects, so the best time to view the stars is when the Moon is not visible. If you’re going to stargaze between sunset and midnight, then the best time to do that in February would be during the February 16-25 time period.
Finding your star in the night sky
Stars are located within constellations, which are just areas of the night sky. Scorpius, Aries and Taurus are examples of constellations. Your Name A Star Live Star Certificate displays the name of your constellation. You can use our online World Constellation Guide to determine if you can see your constellation during the evening hours (between sunset and midnight). Of course, you’ll need a telescope to see your star. (That’s why we include the SLOOH online telescope experience in our Deluxe, Framed and Ultimate Gift Sets!) But you can see your constellation without the use of a telescope. You can also find your constellation by using our Virtual Planetarium™ astronomy software. A planisphere is another useful device.