A black eye on Jupiter, a meteor shower, and other awesome things to look for in the sky this week.
By Richard Talcott
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.
Friday, February 10
Full Moon arrives officially at 7:33 p.m. EST, but it looks completely illuminated all night. You can find it rising in the east at sunset and peaking in the south shortly after midnight local time. It dips low in the west by the time morning twilight begins. The Moon spends the night in western Leo, not far from the Lion’s brightest star, 1st-magnitude Regulus. Look carefully this evening and you should notice the distinct dusky shading of a penumbral lunar eclipse over Luna’s northern half. The eclipse peaks at 7:44 p.m. EST, when 99 percent of the Moon lies within our planet’s light outer shadow.
Saturday, February 11
Although asteroid 4 Vesta reached opposition and peak visibility in mid-January, the brightest minor planet of 2017 still shines at magnitude 6.8 and shows up quite easily through binoculars. To find the minor planet, start at magnitude 1.2 Pollux in northern Gemini and then drop 2.4° southwest to magnitude 4.1 Upsilon (u) Geminorum. Vesta lies 0.5° south-southeast of Upsilon this evening.
Sunday, February 12
Mars continues to put on a nice show these February evenings. It appears nearly 30° high in the west-southwest once twilight fades to darkness, though it’s easier to find by looking 6° (about one binocular field) to the upper left of brilliant Venus. The magnitude 1.2 Red Planet currently lies among the background stars of Pisces the Fish. A telescope shows the world’s 5″-diameter disk, but you likely won’t see any surface detail.