Mortal as I am, I know that I am born for a day. But when I follow at my pleasure the serried multitude of the stars in their circular course, my feet no longer touch the earth - Ptolemy
Chinese New Year
This month sees the beginning of the Chinese New Year which is determined by the Moon. This year on the day of the New Moon, which occurs on 14 February, they wave goodbye to the Ox and welcome in the tiger with open arms. The date is auspicious in Western culture too: 14 February is the Feast of St Valentine, when lovers are supposed to celebrate their union with elaborate gifts and overpriced flowers and restaurant meal mark-ups. It's a time of proposals and weddings, and shops are displaying all sorts of gifts and cards to please a lover. You can buy cute things like teddy bears holding heart-shaped cushions emblazoned with 'I Luv U' alongside black lacy underwear embroidered with saucier language. Traditionally the 'Valentine's card' was meant to be anonymous, but now cards are pre-printed 'To my darling wife/beloved partner' etc, which kind of spoils the surprise. Generally the post-Advent period, when the shops display their red-themed wares in special aisles in preparation for the love-struck on a quest to please the object of their desire, is a time for single people to keep a low profile and pretend it's not happening. So if you're single, why not celebrate Chinese New Year instead?
This Valentine's Day I can offer everyone, not just singles, a heavenly treat. On 14 February, just after sunset, Venus and Jupiter will be visible. Magnificent Venus will be underneath Jupiter which has dominated the winter sky. Venus will be −4 magnitude and Jupiter shines at −2 magnitude. The Moon will be all-but invisible so the two planets will be the brightest objects in the sky — it should be a stunning alignment I fully expect to be trumpeted at Astronomy Picture of the Day. Just two days later Venus and Jupiter will be only half a degree apart and will be a truly wonderful sight in binoculars. From evenings then on they switch position. Venus will be the one on top; Jupiter begins to sink into obscurity and Venus will dominate as the 'evening star' until October.
February 2010 Diary Dates
- 03: Saturn 8° north of Moon
- 04: Mars will pass within 3° of the Beehive Cluster in Cancer (M44)
- 07: Antares (alpha Scorpii) is a mere degree south of Moon around 7pm GMT
- 12: Mercury 2° south of Moon
- 14: New Moon: Chinese New Year
- 14: Alignment of Venus, Jupiter and brand new crescent moon
- 16: Venus and Jupiter half a degree apart as the Sun sets
- 16: Uranus 6° south of Moon
- 26: Mars is 5° north of Moon
- 28: Full Moon (the Snow Moon)
Chat about your celestial observances at the H2G2 Astronomy Society. Comment on anything in this edition of Babe Among the Stars by starting a new conversation below.