Monday, February 6
Venus appears brilliant in the early evening sky starting within a half-hour after sunset. Although it reached greatest elongation nearly a month ago, when it appeared 47° east of the Sun, the planet will remain the evening sky’s brightest point of light through late March. It currently shines at magnitude –4.8, some 10 times brighter than the second-brightest object, Jupiter. Venus lies among the background stars of Pisces the Fish, slightly east of that constellation’s Circlet asterism. This region stands some 30° high in the west-southwest an hour after the Sun goes down and doesn’t set until 9 p.m. local time. When viewed through a telescope this evening, Venus appears 34" across and about one-third lit.
The Moon reaches perigee, the closest point in its orbit around Earth, at 9:02 a.m. EST. It then lies 229,172 miles (368,816 kilometers) away from us.
Tuesday, February 7
Saturn rises more than three hours before the Sun and climbs some 15° high in the southeast by the time morning twilight begins. The ringed planet shines at magnitude 0.5 among the much fainter background stars of Ophiuchus the Serpent-bearer. When viewed through a telescope, Saturn shows a 16"-diameter disk surrounded by a stunning ring system that spans 36" and tilts 27° to our line of sight.
Wednesday, February 8
For those of you in the Southern Hemisphere, today marks the peak of the annual Alpha Centaurid meteor shower. And with the waxing gibbous Moon setting nearly two hours before morning twilight begins, viewing conditions should be excellent. The shower’s radiant — the point from which the meteors appear to originate — lies among the background stars of Centaurus (although, oddly enough, closer to 1st-magnitude Beta [b] Centauri than to its brighter neighbor, Alpha [a] Cen). The shower typically produces about 6 meteors per hour at its peak, although observers have reported between 20 and 30 per hour in a couple of years. The meteors tend to be bright and often leave persistent trains.
Thursday, February 9
Jupiter rises around 10:30 p.m. local time and climbs highest in the south nearly 90 minutes before morning twilight commences. The giant world shines at magnitude –2.2 against the backdrop of central Virgo, some 4° north of that constellation’s brightest star, 1st-magnitude Spica. Even a small telescope reveals the planet’s 40"-diameter disk and four bright moons. But this morning, viewers in western North America get a bonus because the gas giant appears to have a “black eye.” It is actually the dark shadow of Ganymede, the solar system’s largest moon, which crosses Jupiter’s north polar region from 2:49 to 5:22 a.m. PST.