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The Night Sky Tonight: February 15 – February 23

By Mark Wagner

Mark Wagner brings us highlights of what's happening in the sky each night this week. Click on each image to enlarge the view. Happy gazing!

Friday, February 15
Tonight's Moon is at 10.95 days, 80% illuminated and 362,306 km away with these features well positioned. 10x binoculars show beautiful Sinus Iridum (1) and its flat lava filled floor 600m lower than neighboring Mare Imbrium. Crater Hainzel (2) in 50mm is 42x12 mile size with rough floor, steep slopes and crushed by identically sized Hainzel A and C to the north and northeast. 100mm reveals Crater Kunowski (3) with its small 11 mile hexagonal diameter, isolated position, lava filled floor and small Central Mountain. Use 200mm for Rima Gassendi (4) inside crater Gassendi, always a terrific target for high power!

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Orion 10x50 E-Series Waterproof Astronomy Binoculars, Orion SkyQuest XT10 PLUS Dobsonian Reflector Telescope

Tomorrow Morning: Globular Cluster M92 in Hercules

Saturday, February 16
Located between Iota (I) and Eta (E) Herculis on the wide end of the Keystone asterism is the great globular cluster M92. At magnitude 6.3 this 26,700 light year distant 14 arc-minute diameter object is easily visible in binoculars and small finders. It is interesting to compare and contrast it to nearby M13. Although it is a Messier object, it was discovered before Messier by Johann Bode in 1777. 28 variable star candidates are listed in M92, with 20 confirmed. It also contains 17 RR Lyrae type variable stars and 10 x-ray sources. Telescopes over 8" will show individual stars.

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Orion 15x70 Astronomical Binocular & HD-F2 Tripod Bundle, SkyLine 8" Dobsonian Reflector Telescope

Tomorrow Evening: Moon in the Beehive

Sunday, February 17
Can you see the Beehive Cluster M44 next to the Moon in binoculars? It will be in the same field of view tonight? The Moon is very big at two days from full, so seeing the Beehive will be quite a challenge.

Skill Level: Intermediate

Suggested Gear: Orion GiantView ED 20x80 Waterproof Astronomy Binoculars, Orion StarBlast 6 Astro Reflector Telescope

Tomorrow Morning: Venus Saturn Conjunction

Monday, February 18
Nice "eye-candy" view this morning with a conjunction of Venus and Saturn by the "Teaspoon" east of the "Teapot" ? two famous asterisms in Sagittarius. Venus is slightly over 1 degree north of the ringed planet. If you have a wide-field telescope, you may get them in a single field of view! Venus is in gibbous phase, just past First Quarter, and almost 1 A.U. from us. Saturn's rings are superbly inclined, so the Cassini Division should be easy to view. Saturn is 10 times the distance of Venus, a full 10.7 A.U. away.

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Orion AstroView 120ST Equatorial Refractor Telescope, Orion StarMax 90mm TableTop Maksutov-Cassegrain Telescope

Tomorrow Night: Full Supermoon

Tuesday, February 19
Tonight is February Full Moon, called the Full Snow Moon by some American Native tribes. Tonight's is also a Supermoon, with Luna at perigee, a close 356,800 km away making it 7% larger than an average Full Moon. The Moon is rising north of east, but moving south where it will be very close to due east near the upcoming Vernal Equinox in March. Watch the Moon's position to know the seasons!

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Orion 10x50 Binocular Stargazing Kit, Orion StarBlast 4.5 Astro Reflector Telescope Kit

Tomorrow Evening: Constellation Orion

Wednesday, February 20
Orion is perhaps the most iconic of constellations, located on the celestial equator and visible worldwide. Its earliest depiction is thought to be a carving in Mammoth ivory, dating around 36,000 years ago. It contains the most aesthetically beautiful nebula in our skies, catalogued as M42, the Great Orion Nebula. The constellation is bounded by (1) Taurus, (2) Gemini, (3) Monoceros, (4) Lepus and (5) Eridanus. Northerners, have you ever seen it from the southern hemisphere? It is quite disorienting!

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Orion UltraView 10x50 Wide-Angle Binoculars, Orion Observer 80ST 80mm Equatorial Refractor Telescope

Tomorrow Morning: Observing a Big Moon

Thursday, February 21
The 16.4 day old Moon is 96% illuminated, 359, 103 km away, offering us these great views: (1) Mare Crisium as a complete flat circular feature 375 x 345 miles in diameter, great in 10X binoculars. (2) Lacus Spei in 50mm instruments is a challenge, only 48 x 48 miles in size, but very flat and dark. With 100mm instruments (3) Valis Palitzsch is 67 x 10 miles in size sitting along the eastern rim of crater Petavius. (4) Rimae Petavius with 300mm is a great sight, a series of fine rilles running from the central mountain.

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Orion Scenix 10x50 Wide-Angle Binoculars, SkyLine 12" Dobsonian Reflector Telescope

Tomorrow Evening: Great Orion Nebula M42

Friday, February 22
The Great Orion Nebula, catalogued as Messier 42, is one of the great telescopic sights you'll ever have. It is one object that no matter how many times you view it, you'll be amazed. It is a visible in binoculars as a glow in the sword of Orion. In any size telescope the great spread of nebulosity surrounding the four Trapezium stars in the center of the great arc is stunning. In larger telescopes in dark skies fainter nebulosity forms a complete ring, opposite some superb dark nebulae. This is a bright nebula at magnitude 5.0 and covers almost 2 degrees of sky. Go see this!

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Orion Scenix 7x50 Binoculars, Orion SkyQuest XT8 Classic Dobsonian Telescope Kit

Tomorrow Morning: Planet Watching

Saturday, February 23
If you're up early, here is an opportunity to see how quickly Venus moves. Just a month ago, Venus and Saturn were in conjunction, just east of the giant red star Antares in Scorpius, only two degrees apart. Look now and you'll find Venus exiting the Zodiacal constellation Sagittarius, while Saturn has barely budged. Keep watching, as a week from today the Moon in a beautiful waning crescent phase will sit right next to Venus, which will by then have crossed into neighboring constellation Capricornus.

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Orion StarSeeker IV 127mm GoTo Mak-Cass Telescope Kit, Orion AstroView 90mm EQ Refractor Telescope Kit

Tomorrow Evening: Little M78 in Orion




Charts from Starry Night Pro, available from Orion Telescopes & Binoculars. M92 and M42 sketches courtesy Jeremy Perez. Lunar images from Robert Reeves. Other images from Starry Night Pro.

Mark Wagner is a lifelong astronomy enthusiast and deep sky observer in the San Francisco bay area. Visit our Facebook Page if you'd like to post comments, questions, sketches or images you've taken to our Night Sky Tonight post.