Monday, February 27
Tonight will be a great time to get to know Lepus the Hare, one of the sky’s lesser-known constellations. Approximately a dozen medium-bright stars form Lepus, which sits directly below (that is, south of) Orion the Hunter. Lepus is a mid-size constellation. Out of the 88 star patterns that cover the sky, Lepus ranks 51st in size. It covers 290 square degrees, or about 0.7 percent of the sky.
Lepus has two named stars, magnitude 2.6 Arneb (Alpha Leporis) and magnitude 2.9 Nihal (Beta Leporis). The best date to see the constellation (when it lies opposite the Sun in the sky as seen from Earth) is December 14, but because it sits so close to Orion, it’s easy to see throughout the Northern Hemisphere’s winter. Just don’t look for it around June 15 because that’s when the Sun is in Lepus’ part of the sky.
Tuesday, February 28
Head out tomorrow night an hour after sunset and locate Mars. Although the Red Planet shines at magnitude 1.3, it lies low in the western sky. But you’ll have some help. Look for the reddish point not quite 5° northwest of the waxing crescent Moon. At the time, our lone natural satellite will appear 15 percent illuminated.
Wednesday, March 1
As I write this, I don’t know if March will come in like a lion or a lamb, but if your sky is clear you can spot the celestial lion tonight. Look toward the east for the constellation Leo the Lion. The easiest way to find it is to first find the Big Dipper, which tonight stands high in the northeast. Just poke a virtual hole in the Dipper’s bowl and follow the water as it runs out. You might hear a mighty roar as the water falls on Leo’s back. Now that you’re in the general area, search for a backward question mark with a bright star as its bottom. The question mark’s curve is the Lion’s head and mane. The bright blue star is Regulus, also known as Alpha Leonis. It marks Leo’s heart. The rest of the constellation lies to the east of the question mark. Look for a triangle of stars with bright Denebola (Beta Leonis) marking the tip of Leo’s tail.
Thursday, March 2
One of the greatest of all telescope targets — Saturn — rises in the southeast tomorrow morning around 2:30 a.m. local time. The ringed world resides in the constellation Sagittarius the Archer near that star pattern’s border with Ophiuchus the Serpent-bearer. It now shines at magnitude 0.5. Use a magnification of 100x in a 3-inch or larger telescope, and you’ll see Saturn’s magnificent rings tilted 27° to our line of sight. Look for a dark line called the Cassini Division near the rings’ outer edge. This 2,900-mile-wide (4,667km) gap separates the outermost A ring from the brighter B ring. Saturn shows a 16"-diameter disk surrounded by a stunning ring system that spans 36".