Article as first published in The Shetland Times February 2001, formatted by astronomy.shetland


We may still be in the depths of winter but the Sun is rising earlier

and setting later. The moon is full on the 8th and is new on the 23rd.


























Mercury may be seen very low in the southwest about an hour after

sunset. This should be possible in clear skies for the first week of the month.


Venus is the brilliant object seen in the southwest after the Sun

goes down. How soon after the Sun goes down can you see Venus? On the

26th of the month there will be a crescent Moon in the same area of

sky as Venus. Try looking at both of them with binoculars.


Mars is a morning object, low in the south at about 6am. It does not

look very bright - more like a reddish star. On the morning of the

15th the Moon will be just above Mars.


Jupiter and Saturn are in the constellation of Taurus - plain to see

most of the night. Jupiter is on the left and Saturn on the right. By

the end of the month they can be seen in the south after sunset.


Uranus and Neptune are close to the Sun this month and Pluto is a

morning object for medium to large telescopes.






February is the month in which one of the most interesting winter constellations comes in to prominence in the early evening. Orion the Hunter has much to see in it. Most famous is the Horsehead Nebula which cannot be seen except with large telescopes or on photographs.

However one nebula in Orion can be seen easily. This is Messier 42 (M42).

Orion Nebula - Chris Brown

The photograph shows the three belt stars at the top and down

the bottom in the middle is a fuzzy object. This is M42 - magnificent in binoculars and glorious in telescopes of any size. This is an area of our galaxy in which stars are being born. Looking at M42 you are looking at a star factory. The nebula appears red in colour photographs and astronomers use this to guide them to other areas in which stars are being formed, not just in our own galaxy but in other galaxies as well.

We do not see the red colour because our eyes have no colour vision at low light levels. A photograph on the other hand collects the light over time and is able to show the colour of many astronomical objects.

One of the consequences of not seeing colour at low light levels is that we do not see that the sky is blue at night! However go out on the night of a full Moon when the Moon is high in the sky and the sky is really clear. Look over towards the horizon. The sky may look

indigo blue and you may even see that the grass is green! This was very noticeable after the eclipse in February.





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