By Clive Jackson
Welcome to the February night sky. Soon after sunset and practically overhead, the gas giant planet Jupiter is still well visible in the constellation of Taurus. This month we only have two bright planets easily seen, Jupiter in Taurus and Saturn in Libra.
Saturn rises in the east soon after midnight and is easy to identify in a star-poor region of the sky, as it shines with a yellowish light and the only bright star anywhere near Saturn is Spica in the constellation of Virgo and this star is brilliant white in colour.
February has only one well known meteor shower called the Delta Leonids.Unfortunately it occurs on the night of the 26th and this is soon after the full moon so the sky will be rather too bright to see any faint meteors.
2013 has the potential to be remembered as the year of two comets. The best one possibly will be comet 2012 S1 ISON. This object is at the moment in the constellation of Gemini but it is too faint to see even with a good telescope. But by the end of the year, it should have brightened up dramatically as it passes close to the sun around Christmas time.
The other comet is called 2011 L4 Panstarrs, named after the discovering telescope. This object is currently in the far southern constellation of Microscopium and is not yet visible from Portugal, but by early March it should be seen low in the west soon after sunset as on March 5 it is at its closest to Earth on its 100,000 year orbit.
Nobody knows just how bright these two comets may get and it’s possible that they may fizzle out and pass unnoticed, but hopefully they should be well seen without any kind of optical aid.
Historically, comets are always seen as bad omens and the appearance of two in the same year would have been a major cause for alarm and maybe human sacrifices would have been made to the sky gods. Of course now we know better and, in fact, it is quite possible that comet impacts during the formation of the planet Earth were responsible for bringing the vast quantity of water to us that is so essential to life as we know it.
The moon is at last quarter on the 3rd, new on the 10th, first quarter on the 17th and full on February 25.
Download the Algarve Skies Chart by clicking on the link below to download a PDF of the chart.
Clive Jackson is the Director of the Camera Obscura (next to the Castle in Tavira), specialising in education and public outreach. 281 322 527 | www.cdepa.pt