Venus an earlier riser in February

By Blaine P. Friedlander Jr.
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, January 29, 2011; 8:57 PM

That's amore. In February, that month of love, what better planet than Venus - named for the Roman goddess of love - to greet morning sky gazers.

Find Venus in the southeastern sky just a few hours before sunrise. It's an inspiring beacon at negative fourth magnitude, extremely bright and hard to miss. For the time being, it loiters below the constellation Ophiucus and to the left of the constellation Scorpius. You should be able to spot it until about 7 a.m. now. Watch it traverse the region in the morning heavens over the next few weeks.

By the end of February, Venus will move substantially. Within weeks the effervescent planet travels to the Sagittarius constellation. At month's end, Venus should be visible until about 6:30 a.m. Enjoy the old skinny moon as it waltzes around Venus at the end of February.

Saturn - a zero magnitude object (bright) - now rises in the eastern sky about 11 p.m., hanging out in the constellation Virgo, but within two weeks, the ringed planet ascends the heavens about 10 p.m. At the end of February, catch Saturn rising about 9 p.m.

Jupiter commands the early evening night sky now. This large, gaseous planet sets a few hours after sunset. As the month lingers, Jupiter - a negative second magnitude (very bright) object - drives closer to the horizon.

Down-to-earth events

lFeb. 3 - " Three Arrangements: Exploring Our Grand Universe," a lecture by Jim Gates, University of Maryland; Larry Gladney, University of Pennsylvania; and Herman White Jr., Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. They explain string theory, particle physics and mathematical astrophysics to describe the universe and how it evolves. 6:45 p.m., Carnegie Institution for Science auditorium, 1530 P St. NW. Information: carnegiescience.edu.

lFeb. 4 - "Advanced Propulsion for Future Space Exploration," a lecture by Edgar Choueiri, Princeton University. The professor explains new ways to propel spacecraft within our Milky Way neighborhood. 8:15 p.m., Washington Philosophical Society, John Wesley Powell Auditorium (adjacent to the Cosmos Club), 2170 Florida Ave. NW. Information: www.philsoc.org/.

lFeb 5 - "How are Stars Born?" a program at the Montgomery College Planetarium, Takoma Park. 7 p.m. (This program, originally scheduled for Jan. 29, was rescheduled because of an emergency.) www.montgomerycollege.edu/Departments/planet/.

lFeb. 5 - "Weightless Adventures: A Zero-Gravity Laboratory Experiment to Study How Planets Form," a lecture by astronomer Demerese Salter at the open house at the University of Maryland Observatory, College Park. Telescope viewing afterward, weather permitting. 8 p.m. 301-405-6555. www.astro.umd.edu/openhouse.

lFeb. 12 - "From Extrasolar Gas Giant to Hot, Rocky Planet," a talk by Brian Jackson of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center at the National Capital Astronomers meeting, University of Maryland Observatory, College Park. 7:30 p.m. capitalastronomers.org.

lFeb. 13 - Astronomer Tom Hill speaks on space exploration in the past and future, at the Northern Virginia Astronomy Club meeting, Room 80, Enterprise Hall, George Mason University, Fairfax. 7 p.m. www.novac.com.

lFeb. 19 - Learn how slaves reached freedom by following the "the Drinking Gourd" - the Big Dipper - in a program called "African Skies," at the Montgomery College Planetarium, Takoma Park. 7 p.m. www.montgomerycollege.edu/Departments/planet/

lFeb. 20 - Astronomer Jerry Bonnell lectures at the open house at the University of Maryland Observatory, College Park. See the night sky through a telescope afterward, weather permitting. 8 p.m. 301-405-6555. www.astro.umd.edu/openhouse.

lFeb 25 - Thanks to space telescopes, scientists can still find surprises in the Crab Nebula, a supernova remnant. Check out "Revealing the Crab Nebula with the Hubble, Chandra and Fermi Space Telescopes," a lecture by physicist Roger Blandford. At the Lockheed Martin Imax Theater, National Air and Space Museum, the Mall in Washington. Admission free, but tickets required. 7:30 p.m. Information: www.nasm.si.edu.

Blaine Friedlander can be reached at PostSkyWatch@gmail.com.


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