Welcome to the Ontario Parks “Eyes on the Skies” series. This “space” will cover a wide range of astronomy topics with a focus on what can be seen from the pristine skies found in our provincial parks.
The month of February brings the promise of both warmer weather and clearer skies. So grab a cup of tea or hot chocolate, dress warmly, and spend the day outdoors.
And when the sun goes down and the stars start to shine, don’t forget to head back out to enjoy the season’s beautiful night skies!
Here are our astronomical highlights for February:
December and early January are the darkest months of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. The ancients noticed this fact and were very much concerned that the sun’s apparent southerly motion would continue, leaving us with no light at all to nourish our crops, animals and ourselves.
Many cultures worshiped the sun and celebrated festivals to appease the sun god or goddess into returning higher in the sky. By the end of February, it is quite apparent that the sun is much higher and this gladdens the heart, both ancient and present.
|February 1||February 15||February 28|
The phases of the moon are the effect produced by reflected light from the sun bouncing off the moon.
We generally see the “waxing crescent” through “full moon” phases in the evening and late night and “waning gibbous” through “waning crescent” in the early hours of the morning. New moon occurs when the moon lies (relatively) between us and the sun. No light is reflected towards us, rendering the moon invisible.
The moon’s motions are quite interesting in that the moon goes around the earth in exactly the same time as it takes to rotate once. As a result, we always see the same side of the moon pointing towards us (we never see the far side of the moon). The “dark side of the moon’ is simply the portion that we see that is not fully lit.
The moon goes around the Earth in about 29 ½ days. In all years, other than leap years, February has only 28 days. So if, by chance, the full moon occurs on January 31, as it does this year, then we will never get a full moon in February, but two full Moons in January and March!
Check back next month to learn how to find the “lady in the moon.”
Venus and Mars continue to be visible in the night sky. Venus is so bright, it’s hard to miss and may mistaken for other objects (distant lights, planes, etc.).
Venus is the only planet that is visible even during the daytime without a telescope or binoculars. In a clear provincial park sky, far away from sources of pollutants, you may be able to see it if you shield yourself from the sun. The best way to look is to note where it is at sunset on a certain day and then come back the next day a little before sunset and try to find it a little higher up in the sky.
Mars continues to be visible a little bit to the left of Venus, but it is noticeably dimmer. Mars will become prominent and shine brightly again in another year or so.
In the morning sky, two planets are now visible. Jupiter, described in last month’s blog, is well placed, high in the south by around 3:00 am.
Saturn, the ringed planet, rises around 4:30 in the morning and is visible low in the southwest at sunrise. Because of its size and beautiful ring system, Saturn is considered to be the “crown jewel” of the solar system.
If you’re fortunate enough to have a telescope or can access an observatory in one of our provincial parks, you will be able to see the rings, as in this picture taken through the Killarney Provincial Park Observatory telescope.
There are many popular constellations that are associated with this time of the year. Want to learn more about Gemini?
There are no major meteor showers in February, but there are always sporadic meteors to be seen. Sporadic meteors are meteors that do not seem to have an identified common location in the sky.
Did you know…
…you can actually improve your ability to see in the dark!
Most people do not realize there are a number of techniques you can use to improve your night vision.
Check out this article to discover four things you can do to see better in the dark.
We hope it will allow you to not only see more objects in the night sky, but to safely navigate your campsite at nighttime.
This completes our review of February skies
Remember to bundle up and take in the view from our parks. The stars await those who make the effort to enjoy them!
Spending Family Day Weekend at Killarney? Don’t miss the Saturday Stargazing at the Observatory!