What's Up in SWFL Skies
Moon Phases February 2024 (Eastern Time Zone)
3 10 17 25
3Q New 1Q Full Moon
Saturn will be getting lower and lower in the southwest by the time it gets fully dark, and by mid-month will be lost in the early evening glare. It is massively outshone by brilliant giant Jupiter (very high overhead in the SSW at sunset). Saturn will return in a few months, though, as a pre-dawn object!
Jupiter will be the very bright planet high in the south-southwest at the start of the night all month long. This is (still) a great time of the year to observe our largest and most massive gas giant, so if you do have a telescope, or even really powerful binoculars, take a look! Remember: Jupiter completes a full rotation on its axis in under 10 hours, so if you look early and do NOT see the Great Red Spot, look again a few hours later, and so forth. Jupiter is quite bright, but so is brilliant Venus, which will dominate our predawn sky!
Venus will be high and bright in the pre-dawn eastern sky each morning at the start of January, but it's getting closer to the Sun from our point of view, plus it’s going to continue to get a little less brilliant each day as the month proceeds, so eventually it will be lost in the morning glare. It will pass Mars as it heads eastward, so that after Feb 23rd, Mars will actually be above Venus in our pre-dawn sky. It will not be as bright as Venus is, however.
Orion and the entire winter grouping we have already discussed will occupy the first part of the night. Leo will be high in the south after 11 pm, and by 3:30 am or so people looking straight south with no land or shrubs in the way can see all four stars of the southern cross at this latitude. Once the bottom star sets, say 5:45, you will see a yellow star with a blue star beside it above the south point on your horizon: the yellow star is actually a triple star system called Alpha Centauri, our nearest interstellar neighbor! It's actually a triple star system, the component that is closest to us is only 4.2 light years away from our solar system, and that closest component, called Proxima Centauri, has a planet in the "habitable zone," the radius around a star that would support the existence of liquid water on the surface of a terrestrial-style planet.
At the Planetarium
We show four different planetarium shows, two on odd-numbered days and the other two on even-numbered days, so that visitors can attend planetarium shows at 12:15 pm and at 2:15 pm two days in a row and never see the same shows twice. Every Sunday, we have an extra planetarium show with a science discovery emphasis at 3:15 pm. We do a morning "sensory Sunday" show each month, usually on the first Sunday, for people with sensory challenges who want a kid-appropriate show with low volume and a bit more lighting in the planetarium (but please reserve your spot ahead of time for these as they can fill up). We also have at least one special planetarium evening show or presentation at 7 pm (sometimes a show with a talk, too) per month, usually on the evening of the third Wednesday. These are fun and educational and usually related to what is going on that month in our SW Florida skies. Other times we may cover some cool topics in-depth. Our planetarium shows usually have descriptions posted in our calendar. Just click on the individual items for the relevant day in our Calendar to see a full description of the shows or events for that day. You get a "being there" full-surround video and audio experience with all of our shows, and an optional "star walk" guide to our current night sky.
The planetarium presentations are mask-optional -- because you are indoors with other people for about 45 minutes, you might want one, but it's up to you. Planetarium shows are 6 days/week at 12:15 pm and at 2:15 pm (plus an "extra show" at 3:30 pm on Sundays). Please check our Calendar for details. To ensure getting a seat (or the seat you want), please arrive fifteen minutes before the scheduled show time (in "season" especially). We do have two hand sanitizer stations in the lobby, and we thank you for helping us keep everyone safe by distancing, wearing your masks if you have reason to throughout the show and using the sanitizer upon entry. Thank you!
Our friends at the SW Florida Astronomical Society's regular first-Thursday "Meetings with Speaker Series" are hybrid live and Zoom meetings for now (Zoom portion needs to be arranged in advance, see their website for contact info and updates: www.theEyepiece.org). Some of the members are discovering that being able to attend SWFAS from anywhere in the world is actually pretty convenient! Some of the speakers are pretty famous -- how does SWFAS manage that? Well the speakers, too, can Zoom if needed! Occasionally they will have a free planetarium show instead of a speaker, so check their website!
To get a printable (black on white, saves ink) map of the night sky (note: N-S-E-W directions will only make sense if you hold the map overhead to look at it), visit the free download site of the AWESOME skymaps.com.
To spot the International Space Station moving through your sky, try NASA's Spot The Station website! Or to add in the Hubble and various other bright satellites, you can try Sky & Telescope's Tracker page. Or Satflare, of course.
Visit the Planetarium for updates on all of our space-related wonders! You can even rent the planetarium, for your own space-themed party, wedding, celebration of life, meeting, meditation session, or other cosmic event. If you have guests who are immunocompromised, please don't forget the masks, though, whether regular or space-themed.
Hope to see you soon at the Center,
– Heather Preston, Planetarium Director