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The February 2014 sky

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With new month of February upon us, the lengthening of the days will be noticeable at the start and plainly obvious by month's end as we get closer and closer to the equinox, which will come on March 20. Besides the rapidly lengthening days (and thus, shortening nights), February marks the last full Month of Standard Time, with DST returning the first Sunday of next month. All in all, there should be a sense of urgency to get out and see the sky, especially considering the often still lousy Cleveland weather.

Cool Constellations
By nightfall in February the fall constellations are all extremely low in the Western sky by nightfall. Hint: don't dilly dally when it comes to viewing them, they'll be gone by month's end. In the Northwest, ‘W’-shaped Cassiopeia is still high up, house-like Cepheus is low, and the mythological hero Perseus Is still reasonably well-placed for early evening viewing. Moving away from the past and into the present celestial landmarks for this time of year, the Big Dipper is perpendicular to the horizon by the time the sky gets dark and things will only be getting better for Dipper fans as the next few months go along. Almost at zenith is the bright Capella, alpha Auriga. The cloudy patch that is the Pleiades is also very high come nightfall this time of year, as is the V-shaped Hyades cluster. Looking in the South, you'll see all the winter favorites like unmistakable Orion, which also serves as a winter signpost to the stars. From Orion, follow a line from his belt down to blazing blue Sirius, alpha Canis Major. Following that line up will bring one to Aldebaran, alpha Taurus the bull. Aldebaran is also right in the midst of the Hyades. Imagining a line starting at bright blue Rigel (Orion's left foot) through red Betelgeuse (Orion's right shoulder) will bring you to Castor and Pollux, alpha and beta Gemini. Other winter favorites to look for include Canis Minor, Cancer, and even Leo if you wait into the night a little longer. Early birds? Well, getting up just before the Sun will bring a spring preview in the form of Virgo, Bootes, Corona, Hercules, Corvus, and even the Summer Triangle along with the front half of Scorpius, highlighted by fiery red Antares, the rival of Mars.

Planetary Perceptions|
For planet fans, February has a lot to offer. In the evening at month's start, Mercury will put on a great show in the dusk sky. To see it, go out after sunset and look low on the West-Southwest horizon as it will be the brightest object in the area. In the morning, there’s Venus, third brightest object in the sky, which will only get higher as the month proceeds. Jupiter, fourth brightest object in the sky, is sinking into the Western horizon this month. The good news: the planet will be visible throughout most of the night for February, only losing about 2 hours of visibility in the morning. As for Mars and Saturn, 4th and 6th planets, will only get higher in the sky as the month progresses. The real abnormality for February: there will be no Young Moon this month as the Moon will experience its first days past Full on January 31 and March 1 this year. Needless to say, you can thank the 28-day month and 29-day lunar cycle for this one.

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