The ISS and Sky for February

By Chuck McPartlin

The International Space Station will be making visible evening passes over Santa Barbara during the first week of February. Its orbit may change from time to time, especially now that they have to dodge more space debris, so to get the latest and most complete predictions, visit Heavens Above.

On Tuesday, February 1, the ISS will make a low pass over our mountain horizon, starting in the NNW at 6:40 PM PST, and vanishing into our shadow before reaching the bowl of the Big Dipper asterism in the NNE at 6:42 PM.

On Groundhog Day, the station will pop up briefly in the NW at 7:28 PM in Cygnus, and go into shadow as it nears dim Lacerta, the Lizard, at 22 degrees altitude.

Thursday’s pass will be bright, rising at 6:40 PM in the NNW in Cygnus, cruising below Polaris, then through dim Camelopardalis and Lynx before fading away above the heads of Gemini in the ENE at 6:44 PM.

On Friday, the station will appear in the WNW at 7:29 PM in Pegasus, pass above the Moon, and wink out in the tail of Cetus, above Deneb Kaitos in the SW at 7:31 PM.

Saturday’s pass will be bright, starting at 6:40 PM in the NW in Cygnus, through Pegasus, above the Moon, through the head of Cetus and across Eridanus, the River, then by Lepus and into the hind leg of Canis Major, where it will set in the SSE at 6:46 PM.

The best and brightest pass of this series will be on Sunday, rising in the NW at 5:52 PM in Cygnus, and sailing high overhead through Cepheus, Cassiopeia, and Perseus, then the horns of Taurus, and skimming by the bright stars Betelgeuse and Sirius, tracing the spine of Canis Major to set in the SE at 5:58 PM.

The last pass will start at 6:41 PM on Monday, February 7, passing low from the W to the SSW, from the neck of Pegasus, above Jupiter, below Deneb Kaitos, and into the dim constellations Sculptor and Fornax to end where Eridanus flows below our horizon.

The ISS will then transition into our predawn skies until the middle of March.

February 2 is Groundhog Day, and is a cross-quarter day marking the middle of Winter. Whether Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow, or not, we still have about six weeks left. We’ve mostly lost our planets to the predawn sky, but you should still be able to catch sight of Jupiter with a very thin crescent Moon to the left of it at sunset tonight.

On February 8, look for the Lunar X along the terminator from moonrise at 11:13 AM PST until a little past Noon. This figure is formed by the illuminated intersecting mountainous rims of craters as dawn breaks at their location.

On the morning of February 12, Venus will be at its maximum illuminated extent in the predawn sky.

From February 18 through March 3, the Moon will be absent from the western sky at dusk, and the angle of the ecliptic with the horizon will make it an ideal period to look for the large pyramid of Zodiacal Light in the west about an hour after sunset. This is light scattered by dust particles in orbit between the Earth and Jupiter. The dust comes from comets and asteroid collisions, and a lot of it may have originated on Mars, or maybe its two small dusty moons, although the exact mechanism hasn’t been figured out yet.

The Winter Circle of stars centered on Betelgeuse is prominent on February evenings. This is the biggest assemblage of bright stars you’ll see all year long. The perimeter of circle is marked by Rigel, Aldebaran, Capella, Castor, Pollux, Procyon, and Sirius. It’s also the start of open cluster season, with beauties like the Pleiades, the Fleades (M41, in Canis Major), the Double Cluster, M35, and NGC 457 moving into prime viewing position. Get out your binoculars or telescope and take a look!


Written by macpuzl

Outreach Coordinator for the Santa Barbara Astronomical Unit

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