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What's Up for February 2012?
What's Up for February. Mars gets closer and two comets will delight viewers.
Hello and welcome. I'm Jane Houston Jones at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
Mars rises even earlier and grows larger as it nears the closest approach to Earth in its orbit. It rises by 9 p.m. at the beginning of the month and just after sunset by month's end. Through a telescope, look for changes in the north polar cap as the sun warms the ice and the polar cap shrinks.
March, the month named for Mars, will also offer great Mars viewing.
Two comets, one visible at sunset and another after midnight, are worth a look through a telescope or binoculars.
Comet Levy returns to our skies in its 5 year 4 month orbit between Earth and Jupiter. Look for this faint comet below the constellations Orion and Lepus. Towards the end of the month it'll be near the tail of Canis Major, the Great Dog.
You'll have a better chance of seeing it through a telescope away from the city. Try around mid-month to avoid both light pollution and moonlight.
Comet Garradd reappears in our northern skies this month. Early in the month it glides by the globular cluster M92 in Hercules, then moves towards Draco. It should be visible in binoculars and possible even with the unaided eye.
On the nights of February 14 and 15, the comet's tail appears edge-on and you may be able to see a spike or anti-tail pointing towards the sun.
The bright planets Venus and Jupiter set earlier now, at 9 p.m. and 11 p.m. respectively. Luckily, Saturn is rising earlier. Through a small telescope you'll be able to see Titan, Saturn's largest moon and possibly Rhea, Tethys and Dione.
With a good finder chart, you can spot Saturn's two-tone moon Iapetus. when its brighter side faces Earth, making the moon appear a magnitude brighter. It's quite far from Saturn. But look on the days on either side of February 8, 13 ring diameters away. That's Iapetus!
You can learn about February's Year of the Solar System theme at solarsystem.nasa.gov/yss, for Year of the Solar System.
And you can learn about all of NASA's missions at www.nasa.gov.
That's all for this month. I'm Jane Houston Jones.
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