This feature highlights a number of meteor showers, comets and asteroids which are visible during the month of February 2012.
February 2012 Highlights * Venus and Jupiter share the evening sky * Mars brightens as it approaches opposition * Comet C/2009 P1 (Garradd) is a nice binocular object during the morning
Note: If anyone has pictures or observations of these objects/events and want to share them with my readers, send them to the Transient Sky at <email@example.com>.
Mercury – Mercury makes an evening appearance during the later half of February. Find Mercury ~30° to the lower right of Venus. The Moon will be close to Mercury on the 22nd.
Venus – Venus is the brilliant beacon in the southwest after sunset. As bright as Venus is it will only get brighter and higher in the sky for the remainder of the winter and into the spring. This year’s evening apparition is as good as it gets with peak visibility in March/April. The real showstopper occurs at the end of the apparition in June when Venus will transit the disk of the Sun. This will be the last Venus transit till 2117. The Moon and Venus make a gorgeous pair on the evening of the 25th.
Jupiter – The King of Planets shares the evening sky with Venus. It is high in the southeast sky at the end of evening twilight. Past its late October opposition occurred it will slowly fade from magnitude -2.6 to -2.3. Located in Aries, Jupiter will appear to slowly drop lower in the sky and closer to Venus as the month progresses. On Feb 1 Jupiter and Venus are separated by 40°. This distance will shrink every night and by the end of the month they will only be 12° apart. Not that you’ll need the Moon to find Jupiter but the two will make a nice pair on the nights of the 26th and 27th.
Mars – With opposition in March 2012, Mars double in brightness (magnitude -0.5 to -1.2) as it begins to retrograde near the Leo-Virgo border. Mars rises around 9 pm on the 1st and 7 pm on the 29th. The Moon pairs up with Mars on the morning of the 9th and 10th.
Saturn – Saturn rises three hours after Mars. At magnitude +0.5 Saturn will be located ~7° to the lower right of the slightly fainter star Spica in Virgo (magnitude +1.0). The Moon visits on the morning of the 12th and 13th.
Meteor activity starts off high at the beginning of the month but then drops quickly as the month prgresses. The year is usually split in 2 with January through June having low rates with few major showers while July through December have high rates with many major showers.
Sporadic meteors are not part of any known meteor shower. They represent the background flux of meteors. Except for the few days per year when a major shower is active, most meteors that are observed are Sporadics. This is especially true for meteors observed during the evening. During January mornings, 10 or so Sporadic meteors can be observed per hour from a dark moonless sky.
Major Meteor Showers
None this month.
Minor Meteor Showers
Minor showers produce so few meteors that they are hard to notice above the background of regular meteors. Info on many minor showers are provided on a weekly basis by Robert Lunsford’s Meteor Activity Outlook.
Additional information on these showers and other minor showers not included here can be found at the International Meteor Organization’s 2012 Meteor Shower Calendar.
Naked Eye Comets (V < 6.0)
None this month.
Binocular Comets (V = 6.0 – 8.0)
C/2009 P1 (Garradd)
First seen way back on August 13, 2009 by Gordon Garradd who was observing for the Siding Spring Survey, a NASA-funded survey observing from Australia. At the time of discovery it was located at a distance 8.7 AU from the Sun, nearly the distance of Saturn. Perihelion occured 2 days before Christmas 2011 at 1.55 AU from the Sun. Though the comet does not get very close to the Sun, it is an intrinsically bright comet and is already a borderline naked eye object for observers at very dark sites. I was able to observe the comet on the morning of January 2, 2012 with 10×50 binoculars and estimated its brightness at magnitude 6.7. The comet should only be a little brighter this month.
The comet starts the month at a distance of 1.64 AU from the Sun and 1.55 AU from Earth. At mid-month it is 1.71 AU from the Sun and 1.38 AU from Earth and by month’s end it will be 1.80 and 1.28 AU from the Sun and Earth, respectively. Though the comet is post-perihelion and moving away from the Sun, it is also moving closer to Earth. As a result, the comet should peak in brightness this month.
Traveling north from Hercules through Draco, Comet Garradd is best in the early morning though it will be a circumpolar object by the end of the month.
Date RA DEC Delta r Elong Mag Feb 1 17h 17m +41°17' 1.548 1.642 77 6.5 Feb 15 16h 51m +52°20' 1.377 1.714 91 6.4 Feb 29 15h 33m +65°10' 1.275 1.802 105 6.5
Small Telescope Comets (V = 8.0 – 10.0)