The festival that is Up-Helly-A’ is past and the season of fire festivals that herald the return of the sun is in full swing. The length of the night shortens.

New moon is on the 14th and full moon is on the 28th.

Sunset to 10pm

The moon is out of the sky until the 16th. If you have not already done so then start finding your best south-westerly horizon.

If there is a clear horizon after sunset on the nights of the 9th to the 19th then you will be able to see Venus getting higher in the sky night after night while Jupiter gets lower. The evening of most interest will be the 16th when these planets will appear to be about a moon’s width apart.

By the end of the month Jupiter, along with Neptune, will be too close to the sun to see. Venus will have become a beacon low down in the sky and Uranus will be very, very difficult to see in the sky glow. With Venus being so low to the horizon and its light coming through so many atmospheres its twinkling has been mistaken for flares and UFOs.

About 8pm on the 21st the moon is just below the Pleiades.

10pm to 2am

The moon is out of the sky from the 5th to 19th. Mars is now at its best until 2012 but is going to fade rapidly. Having just passed opposi­tion it is available to view all night. It is passing through the constellation of Cancer with its Beehive cluster, like a fainter Pleiades. Go out and look at it.

2am to sunrise

The moon is out of the sky from the 8th to 22nd. If you are staying up late or getting up early then besides Mars there is Saturn to view. Even in binoculars you get a hint of its ring system.

Turn your binoculars on the star Alaieba, which is at the base of the “neck” of the Lion, the constellation of Leo. The minor planet or asteroid Vesta will move across this binocular field over the month. It will be seen first at 8 pm on the binocular field and by the end of the month will exit it at 2am.

It is at its closest to the star on the 17th. Vesta is near opposition and will be just beyond naked eye limit so quite easy to see in binoculars. Just draw the star field every chance you get and you will soon see the one that has moved.

At around 4am on the 24th the moon occults the cluster M35 in Gemini.

There are no large meteor showers in February and for one of the larger small showers it is right at full moon. I managed to see a few late Quadrantids and several spora­dic meteors. Sporadic meteors are those not associated with a known meteor shower and on any clear night quite a few can be seen – if you happen to be looking in their direction.

If we had dark skies in the summer we would be able to look towards the centre of the galaxy so it follows that in winter we look out from our galaxy. Our solar system sits in the Orion arm of the Milky Way so as we look up at the Milky Way across the sky it is that arm of the galaxy that we see.

Further out is the Perseus arm of the galaxy and then across inter­galactic space we can see another galaxy – the Andromeda galaxy, two and a half million light years away. So if we get a night as good as those at the beginning of January then consider taking time to just lie back in a sun-lounger and gaze at our galaxy.

If you are interested in the Space Station then there are views to be had in the morning during the middle of the month. As there is a shuttle planned to go up on the 7th of the month then you may get to see two trails across the sky before they rendezvous or after they separate.

If you want a big challenge then it is possible to see more of the Space Station than a bright blob moving across the sky. It is so big that a bird watching telescope at high power should see some detail, and if you are used to following birds with your spotting scope then you might like to try it with the Space Station and shuttle.

Shetland Astronomical Society is holding a meeting on 27thFebruary at the museum from 7pm. Telescopes will be out if the night is free of clouds.

Clear skies.

Chris Brown


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