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Touring The Evening Skies

January 31, 2011
By Jim Bonser
TAMA NEWS-HERALD - Well, as I predicted last month, January has turned out to be quite cloudy with clear nights being few and far between. Since I have not had many opportunities to be out and see the real stars much this month, I thought it might be a good idea to fire up my favorite computerized planetarium program: The Sky 6 by Software Bisque, to get a quick overview of the sky in mid February. I started by setting the date to February 15 at 8:00 o’clock and I pressed the button that showed me the eastern horizon. I was very pleased to see one of my favorite constellations clearing the horizon. There was majestic Leo standing tall and proud, the star that marks his regal tail, Denebola just peeking over the simulated trees. What is exciting about Leo is that when the great lion begins climbing into the eastern sky in the early evening, then spring is just around the corner and that is good news to me!

If you are not familiar with Leo, go out as I said, about 8 o’clock and face east. Most likely, your eyes will be drawn to the bright star Regulus. Regulus, also known as Alpha Leonis, is a 1.4 magnitude star, that is about 77 light years away. Even though it is so far away, it is still very bright. This is because it has a diameter over three times larger and a mass almost 3 and a half times that of our sun. All this adds up to a star that is shining 140 times brighter than our own star! According to Richard Allen in Star Names: Their Lore and Meaning the name Regulus comes from Rex in the Latin which means ‘king’ which actually comes from a Greek word that means ‘Star of the King’. Even the Akkadians from Mesopotamia who ruled before the great flood of Noah, called Regulus the ‘King of the Celestial Sphere”. The moon will pass by The Star of the King on the nights of February 17 and 18. It will be closest on the night of the 17th. The moon will be virtually full that night and will be so bright that most of the stars in the area will be washed out, but not Regulus. You will find Regulus about 6 degrees to the left of the moon which is about the width of three fingers held together at arms length.

Okay, now that you have found Regulus, look at the pattern of stars to the left and look for a sort of backwards question mark. This is the lion’s mane. Below the mane toward the horizon is a nice triangle that marks the lion’s hips and tail. To me, Leo looks like a line drawing of a lion crouching in the grass or maybe the Egyptian Sphinx. I hope you have fun doing a little big game hunting in the stars this month! Good luck!

As far as bright planets to keep an eye on this month, Jupiter will be moving quickly toward the western horizon, only about 15 degrees from the horizon at the beginning of the month and below the horizon as February comes to a close. Saturn does not clear the horizon this month until around 11 pm, but it is rising earlier and earlier and will be a beautiful addition to the evening sky this fall and summer.

In the morning, the spectacularly bright Venus dominates the predawn sky. For those of you who get up and drive to work or head out to the barn for chores before sunrise, be sure to take a moment and look up at this dazzlingly bright beauty. No wonder Venus was thought of as the goddess of love. Who wouldn’t want their love to shine so bright and dazzle the eyes of the one they loved like Venus does in a clear deep blue predawn sky? Well, that’s all the room I have for this month, so

Happy Valentine’s day and Clear Skies!



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