The February night sky.jpg

The February night sky

By: CLIVE JACKSON

[email protected]

Clive Jackson is the Director of the Astronomical Observatory of Tavira (Sitio do Malhão, Tavira) and the Camera Obscura (next to the Castle in Tavira), specialising in education and public outreach.

WELCOME TO the February night sky. This month we are slowly emerging from the depths of winter and the sun will be setting about an hour later than at the winter Solstice.

From now until June, the sun will be setting about one minute later each day.

The rate of change varies with our latitude with the difference in the change of the length of the day being more noticeable the further north that you live.

Mars is still visible high overhead in the early evening. It is glowing with an orange colour but is noticeably dimmer now than it was at Christmas time.

Saturn is at opposition on February 23 in the constellation of Leo. The full moon is next to Saturn in the early hours of February 21.

At around 3am on February 21, the full moon will enter into the shadow of the Earth. This is called a lunar eclipse and it will be the first time that this type of event can been seen in 2008.

The brilliant disc of the full moon will slowly turn dark red and may be difficult to see for a short while. The mid eclipse time is 3.30am. Lunar eclipses are not rare events but are nice to watch if you can stand the cold at this time in the morning.

Jupiter is in the constellation of Sagittarius and is visible in the southeast before dawn. Venus is in the constellation of Capricorn and is low on the southeast horizon one hour before sunrise.

During the last week of February, Mercury is just above Venus but it may be hard to spot without optical aid, as it is very faint compared to Venus. Mercury will look like a faint pinkish star in binoculars.

2008 is a leap year and as we all know there is an extra day that gives us February 29.

The calendar that we use today was largely created during the time of Julius Cesar and modified by Pope Gregory the 14th. This is why our calendar is called the “Gregorian Calendar”.

There also exists leap centuries in order to keep our days in step with the orbit of the Earth.

The moon is new on February 7, first quarter on February 14, full on February 21 and last quarter on February 29.

For more information, please call 281 321 754, fax 281 324 688, email [email protected]