The SPIRIT Sky in February

Giants in the sky

February 2014 is dominated by two celestial giants – the great nebula in Orion (M 42) and the planet Jupiter.

The constellation of Orion the hunter features prominently in the sky for much of February. Its well known and often targeted nebula (M 42) is easily imaged by SPIRIT with exposures less than 60 seconds. A more challenging target is the Horsehead nebula (IC 434). It is best imaged when near or just past the meridian using the H-a filter on SPIRIT I and exposures upwards of 60 seconds.

In the south, the large Magellanic cloud – one of the Milky Way’s satellite galaxies – features strongly. A naked eye object under rural skies, the “LMC” contains an endless variety of interesting clusters and nebulae, including the bright Tarantula nebula (NGC 2070). Later in the evening, and as the month progresses, the Eta Carina region will follow the LMC across the southern sky and is similarly rich in nebulae and clusters including the area in and around NGC 3372.

Although low in the northern sky, Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system, can be imaged using filtered exposures of less than half a second. Jupiter’s four Galilean satellites appear easily within the field of either of the SPIRIT telescopes, and if imaged over several nights will show changing positions as they orbit the giant planet. Once imaged, the moons can be easily identified using planetarium software such as Stellarium.

For those interested in something different, a number of very bright open clusters are rising during February. These include M 93, M 46 and M 47. These interesting and extended clusters are best imaged with the wide field of SPIRIT II, and exposures of 30 seconds or less.

The moon is full on February 15th, so the best times to image faint objects will fall within the first week, or during the last week of the month.

The Perth night sky facing south at 8:00 pm on February 15th
(click on image to enlarge)