Carnegie Skywatch

The January and February Night Skies


The Winter Milky Way

You may notice that each Star Map in Carnegie Magazine contains a band labeled "Milky Way."  This name refers not only to our home galaxy, but also to the faint band of white light that surrounds the Earth. The band is the result of the combined glow of billions of stars near us in the disk of the galaxy seen edge-on. During winter, the Milky Way is high in the sky in the evening. We are looking toward the edge of our galaxy. Since we are located on the inner part of a spiral arm, we are also looking into it. Spiral arms contain bright stars. Thus the winter evening sky contains the greatest concentration of bright stars seen during the evening than during any other season of the year. We are looking into the Orion arm, which contains the bright stars of that constellation, such as Rigel and Betelgeuse. Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky, is also found in this arm.
January/February Starmap

A Total Solar Eclipse

On February 26, the moon will pass in front of the sun and produce a total solar eclipse visible within a narrow path crossing the Galapagos Islands and several Caribbean islands. A partial eclipse will be visible from Pittsburgh, with the northern portion of the moon covering about 15% of the sun's diameter at maximum eclipse (1:09 pm EST). Do not look directly at the eclipse. It can cause vision damage. To view the partial eclipse safely, use indirect methods. One method is to use two index cards. Poke a small hole in the center of one card. While facing away from the sun, hold this card toward the sun and project the sun's image onto the face of the other card. Another method is to cover a small mirror with paper, leaving a small portion of the mirror exposed. Then carefully reflect the sun's image off this exposed area onto the surface of a wall. A third indirect method is to project the sun's image through the eyepiece of a telescope onto a large white card held in front of the eyepiece.

The Planets

At dusk during early January, Venus can be seen shining brightly low in the WSW, with faint Mars and bright Jupiter to its upper left. Appearing lower each evening, Venus eventually disappears into the solar glare, ending its current evening apparition. Venus passes between the Earth and the sun on January 16 and will emerge from the solar glare into the dawn sky during late January. Venus starts out its new morning apparition low in the ESE. The planet appears higher in the sky each morning throughout February. The waning crescent moon passes Venus on January 26 and February 23. Venus will be visible in the morning into mid-September this year.

 As Venus disappears into the evening twilight, Mars approaches Jupiter. Mars will pass 0.2 degrees south of Jupiter during the evening of January 20th. (As a comparison, the moon's diameter is about 0.5 degrees.). On this date, the two planets lie nearly along the same line of sight as seen from Earth, with Jupiter well beyond Mars. This alignment makes for the closest planetary conjunction of the year. Thereafter, the two planets appear to pull away from each other in the sky. Mars remains an evening planet through mid-March. The waxing crescent moon passes close to Mars on January 29 and February 27.

Jupiter appears lower in the sky each evening, disappearing into the solar glare during early February. The waxing crescent moon appears close to Jupiter on January 1 and above the planet on January 29, with Mars close to the upper left of the moon that evening. Jupiter passes on the far side of the sun on February 23 and will reappear in the morning sky along with Venus toward the end of March.

Saturn begins the year high in the south at dusk. The moon appears close to Saturn January 4 and 5, February 1 and 28, and March 1. On the evening of February 1, Saturn and the moon can be seen far to the upper left of Mars and Jupiter. Thereafter, watch the gap close between Saturn and Mars. By the end of February, the two planets will be 21 degrees apart, with the crescent moon between them.

Mercury can be seen low in the SE at dawn through late January. At 45 minutes before sunrise, Venus appears 12 degrees to the left of Mercury on January 22.

Earth is at perihelion, its closest distance to the sun for the year, on January 4. The Earth will be 91.3 million miles from the sun on that day.

Moon Phases


First Quarter:

 Jan. 5, 9:19am; Feb. 3, 5:54pm


Jan. 12, 12:25pm; Feb. 11, 5:24am

Last Quarter: 

Jan. 20, 2:41 pm; Feb. 19, 10:28am


Jan. 28, 1:02am; Feb. 26, 12:27pm


For current information on astronomical events, call the Skywatch Hotline at 237-3400, then press 1-3-4 within the menuing system.

Planetarium Shows

Be sure to visit the Henry Buhl, Jr. Planetarium at Carnegie Science Center this winter. Our main feature is Flashback to the Future: 40 Years of Space Exploration . . . and Counting! Every Friday at 4:00 p.m., the planetarium presents Stars Over Pittsburgh as your weekly guide to the current night sky.

Jenny Pon is astronomer and Digistar system manager for the Henry Buhl, Jr. Planetarium & Observatory at Carnegie Science Center.


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