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Saturn runs rings around its sky mates this month

Published January 29, 2005

Saturn rules the evening skies in February: The Cassini spacecraft is in the planet's vicinity, and the Huygens probe is sending photographs from the surface of Saturn's largest moon, Titan, over 760-million miles from us. Look for Saturn high in the east-southeast in the evening and high in the south in the morning. The planet is about as bright as it can get, outshining all the stars in the evening sky, its rings tilted nicely for display in a small telescope. Notice that in the constellation of Gemini, Saturn is not far from the twin stars Castor and Pollux.

Jupiter makes an appearance in the east-southeast an hour before midnight on Feb. 1 and a couple of hours sooner by month's end. Jupiter is even brighter than Saturn, and through a telescope it looks like a mini solar system as its four largest moons orbit about it. The atmospheric upper bands can be easily seen across its 88,000-mile diameter with even a small telescope. Jupiter is near the moon on the evenings of Feb. 26 and 27.

Mars rises in the southeast around 4 in the morning. The best time to spot it is before sunrise on Feb. 5 when it is to the upper left of the crescent moon. Antares, a star the same color as Mars, is found to the far upper right of the planet in the constellation of Scorpius.

Comet Machholz should be easily visible with optical aid during the first two weeks of February. Take advantage of the observing opportunities that the St. Petersburg Astronomy Club is offering in Gulfport, St. Petersburg Beach (see Calendar) and after the planetarium shows at St. Petersburg College. The comet will look like a faint fuzzball through binoculars or a telescope.

At the planetariums

SCIENCE CENTER OF PINELLAS COUNTY: The Science Center, 7701 22nd Ave. N, St. Petersburg, is offering planetarium shows on Wednesdays at 2:30 p.m. and on Saturdays at 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Telescopes will be set up for viewing on Feb. 26 from dark to 11 p.m.

Learn how to build a telescope at the ongoing classes on Saturdays from noon to 4 p.m. in the optical laboratory, in the annex building behind the main building. The St. Petersburg Astronomy Club meets at the Science Center at 8 p.m. Feb. 25. Visit its Web site at

For more information, call 727 384-0027 or visit

ST. PETERSBURG COLLEGE: The college planetarium at the St. Petersburg campus, Fifth Avenue and 69th Street N, will offer free planetarium shows at 7 and 8:15 p.m. Fridays. When skies are clear, telescopes will be set up after the shows. Call (727) 341-4320 for more details.

GULFPORT: Telescopes will be set up Feb. 4 and Feb. 19 at dusk on the corner of Beach Boulevard and 31st Avenue S. for astronomical viewing, but only if the skies are clear.

ST. PETERSBURG BEACH: Telescopes will be set up at dusk Feb. 5 on Corey Avenue in front of the Beach Memorial Funeral Home, if the sky is not cloudy.

MUSEUM OF SCIENCE AND INDUSTRY: The planetarium at MOSI, 4801 E Fowler Ave., Tampa, is showing "Ring World," about the planet Saturn, and the "Tonight Show," covering the current night sky. The Challenger Learning Center continues with "Journey to Mars." The IMAX Dome Theater presents several shows of interest.

MOSI's newest exhibit is "Space: A Journey to Our Future." See how space exploration has enhanced our lives and what could be in store for the future.

Call 813 987-6100 or visit for more events.

Sky calendar

TUESDAY: Last-quarter moon. Jupiter stationary among the fixed stars.

FRIDAY: Telescopes set up in Gulfport if the skies are clear. Look to the south-southeast before dawn to find the moon to the lower left of the giant red star Antares.

FEB. 5: Telescopes set up in St. Petersburg Beach if the skies are clear. Look to the southeast an hour before dawn to locate Mars to the upper left of the crescent moon.

FEB. 7: Moon closest (perigee) to the Earth at 222,800 miles.

FEB. 8: New moon.

FEB. 14: Mercury in superior conjunction - on the other side of the sun.

FEB. 15: First-quarter moon.

FEB. 19: Telescopes set up in Gulfport if the skies are clear. The moon is at the greatest distance (apogee) from the Earth at 252,156 miles. High in the east-southeast, Saturn is below the moon at dusk.

FEB. 20: Saturn is now to the upper right of the moon at dusk.

FEB. 23: Full moon.

FEB. 26: Telescopes will be set up at the Science Center of Pinellas County from dusk to 11 p.m. Jupiter to the lower left of the moon in east-southeast after 9:30 p.m.

FEB. 27: When dawn approaches, Jupiter is just above the moon in the southwest. In the evening, after 10 p.m., brilliant Jupiter can be seen above the moon in the east-southeast. Notice the star Spica is just to the upper right of the moon.

Daryl L. Schrader is an astronomy and mathematics professor at St. Petersburg College and teaches astronomy at the University of South Florida.

[Last modified January 28, 2005, 09:44:05]

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