As soon as night falls in February 2014, from any part of Earth, you’ll see the dazzling planet Jupiter in your sky. It’s the brightest starlike object in the sky for most of the night, now that Venus is up before dawn. Jupiter is now pretty much on line with the stars Betelgeuse and Rigel in the constellation Orion. Look near Jupiter to see the constellation Orion and his famous Belt – three stars in a short, straight row.
Betelgeuse is one of the sky’s most famous stars. Kids especially like Betelgeuse, because its name sounds so much like “beetle juice.” The movie by that same name perpetuated this pronunciation. But astronomers pronounce it differently. We say BET-el-jews. People have described this star as “somber” or sometimes “grandfatherly.” That may be because of Betelgeuse’s ruddy complexion, which, as a matter of fact, indicates that this star is well into the autumn of its years.
But Betelgeuse is no ordinary red star. It’s a magnificently rare red supergiant. According to Professor Jim Kaler – whose website Stars you should check out – there might be only one red supergiant star like Betelgeuse for every million or so stars in our Milky Way galaxy.
By the way, at this time of year, Betelgeuse’s constellation – Orion the Hunter – ascends to its highest point in the heavens around mid-evening, with the Hunter symbolically reaching the height of his powers. As night passes – with Earth turning eastward under the stars – Orion has his inevitable “fall,” shifting lower into the southwestern sky by late evening. Orion slowly heads westward throughout the evening hours and plunges beneath the western horizon in the wee hours after midnight.
See Mercury in the sunset direction on the evening of February 4. You’ll have all evening and then some to see the dazzling planet Jupiter and starlit constellation Orion the Hunter. But to catch the waxing crescent moon – and especially the planet Mercury on February 4, 2014, you need to look low in the sunset direction, starting an hour or so after sunset.
Once you spot the moon, look for Mercury beneath the moon and close to the horizon with the unaided eye or binoculars. The bow of the moon will be pointing toward Mercury, more or less. At mid-northern latitudes, Mercury sets about 90 minutes after the sun.
Bottom line: The planet Jupiter – the brightest starlike object it the sky until Venus rises before dawn – is easy to spot near the constellation Orion. Meanwhile, the waxing crescent moon is still acting as a guide to the planet Mercury – the least-often-seen of the bright planets – after sunset.