Star Gazing in February

For the star map click here
For the diary Astronomical Phenomena for February 2013 click here
Indian names are given in italics and in Devnagri

Taurus, the Bull (Vrishabha – वृषभ), Orion, the Hunter (Mrugha – मृग), Auriga, the Charioteer (Sarathi – सारथी) and Gemini, the Twins (Mithuna – मिथुन) are almost overhead.

Ursa Major, the Great Bear (Saptarishis – सप्तर्षि) are rising in the northeast and Leo, the Lion (Simha – सिंह) is above the eastern horizon.

In the southern direction almost halfway between the horizon and zenith is the brightest star of the night sky, Sirius (Vyadh व्याध), shining brilliantly. About 30 degrees south of it, is Canopus (Agatsya आगस‌त्य) the second brightest star. Sirius is just about 8.6 light years from us has surface temperature of 9400 degrees Kelvin. This star has a faint companion, which is even hotter. This companion star is what astronomers call ‘white dwarf’. The mass of this companion of Sirius is as much as the mass of the sun but its diameter is smaller than earth. If we take one-inch cube material of this that it will weigh 15 tons. It is rather difficult to see this stars.

Face east now and look well above the horizon and try to identify the stars of Gemini, the Twins (Mithuna – मिथुन) . The two bright stars of the constellation Castor and Pollux are the twin warriors. They are contrasting pair. Castor with its surface temperature of 10,000 degrees Kelvin, is white and Pollux is orange colour star with surface temperature of about 4500 degrees Kelvin. These are not physical twins Pollux is 34 light years from us and Castor is 52 light years. Castor, however, is a multiple star. There are three pairs of stars moving around each other around common center of gravity. Castor and Pollux make Punarvasu Nakshtra (पुनर्वसू )

To the right of Castor and Pollux you can see a very bright star Procyon, in Canis Minor (प्रश्वा) and to its left and above is a faint star. These four stars put together make a nice heavenly parallelogram. We call it Gateway of Heaven because all the planets, the Sun and the Moon pass through this heavenly gate.

Those not used to observing the sky often fail to recognize the constellations by their names. But two constellations have striking resemblance to the names given to them. One of them is Leo, the Lion ( सिंह), now well above the eastern horizon. The star identified as Regulus (Magha – मघा) is a Royal star. Next to Leo is Hydra with its bright star Alphard which means the lonely one. Having identified these two stars now look above them and see if you can locate the objects marked M44 and M67. These are clusters of stars. M44 is a naked eye cluster visible under dark clear sky. It is Pushya Nakshtra (पुश्य).

Let us now move on to northeast. The Ursa Major is well above the horizon. We are taught in the schools that ancient astronomers and navigators used this constellation for finding directions in the night. Line passing through its leading stars passes through the North Pole. But mark the stars named Mizar. This stars also has a companion named Alcor. These are our Vashitha (वशिष्ठ) and Arundhati (अरुंधती).

Give a red celestial roses to your loved one this Valentine’s Day on February 14th. Face west and look for heavenly ‘V’ which is a head and horn of Taurus, the Bull (वृषभ). Further above and to left and right are constellations Orion (मृग) and Auriga (सारथी). Brightest stars in Orion and Taurus are Betelgeuse (आर्द्रा) and Aldebaran (रोहिणी)are strikingly red colour stars. Both the stars are quite big in size. Betelgeuse is so big that if placed where the Sun is, its surface will be somewhere close to the orbit of Mars.


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About skytonight

I am the present Director of Nehru Planetarium of Nehru Centre Mumbai, India I like to talk about astronomy and sky observations to general public.
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