The sky: February 12-18; Watch the Moon and Jupiter on 14th

Special to, February 12-17, 2024

Excerpts from weekly Sky&Telescope report.


■ Orion stands his highest in the south by about 8 p.m. Under Orion’s feet, and to the right of Sirius, hides Lepus the Hare. Like Canis Major, this is a constellation with a connect-the-dots that really looks like what it’s supposed to be. He’s a crouching bunny, with his nose pointing lower right, his faint ears extending up toward Rigel (Orion’s brighter foot).


■ By 9 p.m. or so, the Big Dipper stands on its handle in the northeast. In the northwest, Cassiopeia also stands on end (its brighter end) at about the same height. Between them is Polaris.


■ The Moon and Jupiter shine only about 4° apart this evening for skywatchers in the Americas. They’re the two brightest things in the evening sky. Watch them pull closer together as they sink toward the west.


■ The Moon, the Pleiades, and Aldebaran form a large flat triangle this evening, as shown below.

Moon passing the Pleiades, then Aldebaran, Feb. 15-17, 2024

The first-quarter Moon passes the Pleiades and Aldebaran. The Moon here is shown about three times its actual apparent diameter.

■ This evening Algol should be at minimum brightness, magnitude 3.4 instead of its usual 2.1, for about two hours centered on 11:32 p.m. EST; 8:32 p.m. PST. Algol takes several hours to fade beforehand and to rebrighten after.


■ First-quarter Moon tonight (exactly first-quarter at 10:01 a.m. EST). Just lower right of the Moon, by about 2° or 3° for North America, spot the Pleiades as shown.


■ Right after night is completely dark this week, the W of Cassiopeia shines high in the northwest standing almost on end. Near the zenith is Capella.

The brightest star about midway between Cassiopeia and Capella (and a little to the left) is Alpha Persei, magnitude 1.8. It lies on the lower-right edge of the Alpha Persei Cluster: a large, elongated, very loose swarm of fainter stars about the size of your thumbtip at arm’s length. At least a dozen are 6th magnitude or brighter, bright enough to show well in binoculars even through the moonlight this evening.

Alpha Per, a white supergiant, is a true member of the group and is its brightest light. It and the rest are about 560 light-years away.


■ Canopus, the second-brightest star after Sirius, happens to lie almost due south of Sirius: by 36°. That’s far enough south that it never appears above your horizon unless you’re below latitude 37° N (southern Virginia, southern Missouri, central California). And near there, you’ll need a very flat south horizon.

Canopus crosses the south point on the horizon just 21 minutes before Sirius does. So, when to look? Canopus is due south when Beta Canis Majoris — Murzim the Announcer, the star about three finger-widths to the right of Sirius — is at its highest due south over your landscape. That’s about 8 or 9 p.m. now, depending on how far east or west you live in your time zone. Drop straight down from Murzim then.

■ Algol should be at minimum light, magnitude 3.4 instead of its usual 2.1, for about two hours centered on 8:21 p.m. EST.

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