Night Sky in February 2010!

-By Rishi Shah

The alluring beauty of major planets, enchanting magnificence of arcane galaxies and nebulae along with mysterious entities of the heavens can be relished this month. As it gets dark, the entire sky comes alive with twinkling stars that sketch gorgeous constellations of different sizes and shapes resembling various unique objects. The zodiacal constellations of Pisces (fishes), Aries (ram), Taurus (ram), Gemini (twins), Cancer (crab) and Leo (lion) are unfurling fascinatingly across the sky from western to eastern horizon. Pentagon-alike constellation Auriga (charioteer) is dominating the evening sky with its bright star Capella (Brahma Ridaya) that is roughly fourty three light-years away. Perseus (legendary person) and Andromeda (chained princess) are drifting towards northwestern sky. Ancient constellation Auriga is teeming with fulgent star clusters and exquisite nebulae. It houses remarkable open star clusters M36, M37 and M38, emission nebula IC410 with intriguing Tadpoles, Flaming Star Nebula IC405 as well as the enigmatic pair IC417 and NGC1931 that are popularly recognized as imaginary spider and petite fly. This perplexingly intimidating predator and the cringing prey are barely ten thousand light-years away. They represent young star clusters that have evolved weirdly in interstellar clouds and are embedded bafflingly in glowing hydrogen gas. M38 manifests rich open star cluster, which is spreading out and their stars are slowly escaping over time as they rush around our galactic centre. Though it contains innumerable lurid blue stars, its most lambent star is puzzlingly yellow and it is nine hundred times more luminous than our Sun. M36 and M37 are equally engrossing embodiments of star clusters. All these three clusters are circa four thousand light-years away.

When strange star Epsilon Aurigae fades repeatedly every twenty seven years, it remains dim for two years before becoming lustrous again. It is eclipsed regularly by its dark companion. Starting from August 2009 its obscuration had arrived at its deepest point by December. It is now expected to remain dull and murky throughout 2010, before regaining its normal brightness in 2011. Huge Epsilon Aurigae is supposedly low mass star that is creeping towards its inevitable demise. It is periodically hidden by a single star dwelling in deluding dusty disk, which is estimated to possess a radius of sheer four AU (four times Earth-Sun distance that stretches on average to 150 million kilometers). It is perhaps one half AU thick. (AU is the abbreviation for Astronomical Unit) and is utterly two thousand light-years away. Similarly, eclipsing binary star Zeta Aurigae varies in magnitude with a period of fairly one thousand days. It is modestly eight hundred light-years away. Beguilingly fiery star AE Aurigae is engulfed in enticing emission nebula IC405, which is nicknamed the Flaming Star Nebula.

Unmistakably attractive Orion (hunter) is decorating the eastern sky after sunset. Canis Major (great dog), Canis Minor (small dog), Monoceros (unicorn) and dinky Lepus (hare) are following Orion. Their distinguished stars Betelgeuse (Ardra), Rigel, Procyon (Manda) and Sirius (Lubdhak) are scintillating enthrallingly. If supergiant Betelgeuse would be placed at our Solar System’s center it would extend to planet Jupiter’s orbit. Betelgeuse is about six hundred light-years away. It is reaching the end of its life span. When it would explode (supernova), it would be visible even during the day time. Blue Rigel would pass its supergiant stage soon either collapsing or shedding its outer layers and would transform into white dwarf. It is probably just over seven hundred light-years away. They are practically nine and eleven light-years away. Lengthy watery constellations Hydra (sea serpent), Eridanus (river) and Cetus (whale) are sprawling in southern sky. Tiny constellations Corvus (crow), Crater (cup) and Sextans (sextant) are straddled snugly on Hydra’s back. Bewitchingly giant binary star Mira consists of oscillating variable Mira A and Mira B. It is virtually over two hundred light-years away. Circumpolar constellations Draco (dragon), Cepheus (king), Cassiopeia (queen) and Ursa Major (great bear) are circling Polaris, the Pole Star alias Dhruba Tara, which resides cozily in Ursa Minor (little bear). Our galaxy the Milky Way runs mainly through Lacerta (lizard), Cassiopeia, Auriga and Monoceros from northwest to southeast horizon.

Elusive planet Mercury is hurrying in eastern sky across Sagittarius (archer) and Capricornus (sea goat) before sunup during the beginning of February. Ruddy Mars is blazing in eastern sky in Cancer right after sundown. It is floating above the famed Beehive star cluster (M44).

Minor meteor shower Delta Leonids would peak before dawn in western sky on 24 February with flashes of sporadic shooting stars that would emanate from Leo. Asteroid Vesta-4 would be dashing across the star field of Leo. Comet 81P/Wild is tumbling across Virgo above its resplendent star Spica (Chitra). Comet C/2007Q3 (Sliding Spring) is ploughing towards northeast horizon after crossing constellation Bootes (herdsman). They could be marvelled late at night through good binoculars. New moon falls on 14 February, while full moon (commonly referred to as full snow moon or colourful holi purnima) mystifies us all on 28 February. Venerated Maha Shivaratri is celebrated respectfully on 12 February.

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( Note: Er. Rishi Shah, president of Nepal Astronomical Society(NASO) and Academician of Nepal Academy of Science and Technology(NAST) has been writting about astronomy for more than a decade).
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Source: The Rising Nepal, National English Daily,Thursday,February 4,2010

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