Courtesy of EarthSky
A Clear Voice for Science
If you’ve never seen the planet Mars – or haven’t seen it recently – now is the time to look.
This reddish world – the world most like Earth in our solar system – shines more brilliantly this February than it will for the next several years. What’s more, Mars sits right in front of the constellation Cancer the Crab now. It shines only 3 degrees from a beautiful star cluster in the direction of this constellation – called the Beehive star cluster. Mars and this star cluster will fit in a single binocular field for the next week or so, so grab your binoculars before going out at night.
At nightfall and early evening, orange-colored Mars shines mightily over your eastern horizon. Mars looks like an exceptionally brilliant star, except that it shines with a steadier light than the twinkling stars. Mars and the Beehive cluster rise upward and westward throughout the evening hours, and are highest up in the sky around midnight.
The Beehive star cluster is visible to the unaided eye in a dark country sky as a misty patch of light. But you really need binoculars to transform the Beehive into the sparkling array of stars that it really is. This cluster contains several hundred stars that were born from the same cloud of gas and dust some 700 million years ago. It’s thought that a beam of light would need 600 years to travel to the Beehive cluster – and another 15 years to cross the width of the cluster
So watch for bright Mars tonight. As night falls, it’ll appear as an exceptionally bright red or orangish ‘star’ over your eastern horizon. Mars and the Beehive cluster climb upward throughout the evening hours, are highest up around midnight, and descend in the west afterwards, to set beneath the western horizon around sunrise. And, by the way, if you’re outside at early dawn tomorrow, watching Mars about to set in the west, do an about-face – and look over the sunrise point on the horizon – to see if you can spot the planet Mercury low in the east-southeast sky before sunrise.
Throughout February, watch for Mars and the Beehive cluster together in the evening sky.
Written by Bruce McClure, Deborah Byrd
Other Links:Print This Post