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February is month for eclipses and close encounters

February Night Sky

   By Larry Mahon
   Agate Ridge Observatory
   On Feb. 1, a close encounter occurs between VENUS and JUPITER. This is a very favorable conjunction that will occur at about 5:15 a.m. The pair will rise nearly two hours ahead of the sun and should be a spectacular site. Sunrise is at 7: 23 a.m.
   JUPITER will be the larger of the two but VENUS will outshine its companion because it is closer to the SUN and receives 50 times as much light.
   The planets will shine close enough together, 0.6 degrees, to be seen in a single field of view in binoculars or telescopes at low magnification. The planets will not appear this close together again until the year 2014.
   Feb. 7, will see an annular solar eclipse in parts of Antarctica and if you are not planning to go that far, New Zealand and eastern Australia will have a partial solar eclipse.
   The viewing on Feb. 20, starts with the third TOTAL LUNAR ECLIPSE we have seen in the last 12 months. This eclipse will be visible in the early evening so you won't have to set an alarm and get up in the middle of the night as we did last August.
   We will miss most of the Moon passing through the Penumbra with its very subtle shading because the Moon doesn't show itself above our horizon until 5:29 p.m. The partial phase starts at 5:43 p.m., totality begins at 7 p.m., and mid-totality occurs at 7:26 p.m.
   Totality ends at 7:52 p.m., as the Moon starts to exit the Umbra. The partial phase ends at 9:09 p.m., and exiting the subtle shading of the Penumbra concludes the eclipse at 9:45 p.m.
   This is the last total lunar eclipse for nearly three years, and the next one won't happen until Dec. 21, 2010.
   Between now and 2010 there will be two partial lunar eclipses, one this year on Aug. 16, and another on Dec. 31, 2009. Unfortunately these will only be seen in Europe, Africa and parts of Asia.
   Another close encounter is visible on Feb. 27, when VENUS and MERCURY draw to within 1.2 degrees of each other. About 45 minutes before sunrise, low in the east south east, these two planets begin their amazing five straight weeks within three degrees of each other.
   Watch and see how JUPITER and VENUS move apart this month. JUPITER will be three hours ahead by month's end. Happy viewing.