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02/24/2022 – Ephemeris – The celestial unicorn

February 24, 2022 Comments off

This is Ephemeris for Thursday, February 24th. Today the Sun will be up for 10 hours and 55 minutes, setting at 6:23, and it will rise tomorrow at 7:27. The Moon, 1 day past last quarter, will rise at 3:57 tomorrow morning.

Among all the constellations in the sky of animals real and mythical, there is also a unicorn. It’s called Monoceros, and inhabits the south-southeastern sky at 8 p.m. mostly bounded by Orion on the right, Canis Major, the great dog below and Canis Minor, the little dog to the left and above. Unfortunately for observers without a telescope, Monoceros, is devoid of any but the faintest stars. Maybe that’s why no one sees unicorns anymore. It has many faint stars because the Milky Way runs through it. To the telescopic observer and astrophotographer it is a feast of faint nebulae or clouds of gas and dust, the birthplace of stars, including the red rose of the Rosette Nebula* (NGC 2237), and Hagrid’s Dragon Cluster (NGC 2301), which sounds suspiciously like it was recently, and unofficially, named. Monoceros also contains a beautiful telescopic triple star system, Beta (β) Monocerotis.

The astronomical event times given are for the Traverse City/Interlochen area of Michigan (EST, UT – 5 hours). They may be different for your location.

* The Rosette nebula surrounds the star cluster NGC 2244. This sparse star cluster is visible visually in telescopes. I’ve never been able to spot the nebula in a telescope, but it shows up, faintly, in my wide angle photographs of the area.

Addendum

Deep Sky Objects around Monoceros

Deep Sky Objects in and around Monoceros. Deep Sky Objects are telescopic objects that lie beyond the solar system. Click on the image to enlarge. Created using Stellarium.

Rosette Nebula

Rosette Nebula in the infrared from the Spitzer Space Telescope. Credit: NASA/JPL/Caltech

The brighter stars of NGC 2301 (Hagrid’s Dragon Cluster, AKA Great Bird Cluster and Copeland’s Golden Worm). It’s also in two other catalogs: Cr 119 and Mel 54. Created using Stellarium and GIMP. The dragon image is from “Dragon Flying Cycle” on YouTube by Simon Hussey.

Beta Monocerotis

Telescopic Beta Monocerotis. William Hershel, discoverer of Uranus, said that it was “One of the most beautiful sights in the heavens.” Credit: F. Ringwald, Fresno State.