If it’s at all clear in your part of the world, you can’t miss the moon and the planet Jupiter at nightfall. These two rank as the brightest and second-brightest celestial bodies in the February 2014 evening sky. Both of these worlds – the moon and Jupiter – shine in front of the constellation Gemini the Twins on the night of February 11.
The waxing gibbous moon will leave the constellation Gemini after a day or two, but Jupiter will remain in front of Gemini until early July 2014. So you can use brilliant Jupiter to find Castor and Pollux for months to come.
Despite tonight’s blinding moonlight, you may be able to make out Gemini’s two brightest stars, Castor and Pollux. You also have a good chance of seeing the brilliant star on the opposite side of tonight’s moon from Castor and Pollux. That’s Procyon, the brightest star in the constellation Canis Minor the Lesser Dog.
Draw an imaginary line from Procyon and through the gap between Castor and Pollux, and you’re pointing in the direction of Polaris, the North Star. In other words, Castor and Pollux are to the north of Procyon, and Polaris marks the end of the journey. Past Polaris, you start to go southward on the sky’s dome again.
The Gemini stars and Procyon are found in the eastern half of sky at nightfall and early evening. They’ll climb upward throughout the early evening hours, until Procyon transits – climbs to its highest point for the night – somewhere around 10 p.m. local time. At Denver, Colorado, Procyon transits at 22:11 (10:11 p.m.) MST on February 11, 2014. Click here to know when Procyon transits in your sky.
When any celestial body transits, it is said to reside on the meridian – the imaginary semi-circle that arcs across the celestial sphere from south to north. When a heavenly body transits the meridian, it’s neither in the eastern half of sky nor in the western half of sky. A transiting body can only be at one of three places: at zenith (straight overhead), south of zenith or north of zenith.
Whenever Procyon crosses the meridian, so does that tiny gap between Castor and Pollux. Use the moon to find the stars Castor, Pollux and Procyon tonight, and then use the planet Jupiter to find these stars in the months ahead.