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February Constellations

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The eight February constellations include a few well-known groups such as Gemini, the Twins, and Canis Major, the Great Dog. Located in these constellations are seven Messier objects. All of these are open star clusters except for M79, which is a beautiful globular cluster located in the constellation of Lepus, the rabbit. The constellation Auriga contains the most, with three open clusters worthy of some serious observation. Gemini is home to two famous bright stars known as Castor and Pollux. The February sky also reveals Sirius, the brightest star in the sky. At magnitude -1.46, this bright star dominates the winter night.

Auriga | Camelopardalis | Canis Major | Columba | Gemini | Lepus | Monoceros | Pictor

  Auriga The Charioteer  

Pronunciation:  (ah-RY-guh) 
Abbreviation:  Aur   Genitive:  Aurigae
Right Ascension:  6 hours   Declination:  41.73 degrees
Area in Square Degrees: 
657
Crosses Meridian:  9 PM, January 10

Auriga can be seen most of the year in northern latitudes, due to its circumpolar nature. This constellation represents the charioteer Erechtheus, who is seen carrying his children in his arm. This constellation is believed to have originated with the Babylonians. In some references, the charioteer carries a goat along with the two children. His other hand holds the reins to the chariot. Auriga contains three Messier objects, all of which are open star clusters. The bright star Capella is the 6th brightest star in the sky. With a magnitude of 0.08, it can easily be identified in the night sky.

Points of Interest in Auriga
Diagram of the constellation Auriga Object Name Type/Translation V Mag
1 M36 Open Star Cluster 6.3
2 M37 Open Star Cluster 6.2
3 M38 Open Star Cluster 7.4
4 Capella "She-goat" 0.08
5 Menkalinan "Shoulder of the Charioteer" 1.9
6 Almaaz * 2.99
7 Haedi "One of the Kids" 3.75
8 Hoedus II "Middle of the Belt" 3.17
9 Hassaleh "East End of the Belt" 2.69
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  Camelopardalis The Giraffe  

Pronunciation:  (ka-MEL-oh-POR-duh-lis) 
Abbreviation:  Cam   Genitive:  Camelopardalis
Right Ascension:  5.76 hours   Declination:  70.27 degrees
Area in Square Degrees: 
757
Crosses Meridian:  9 PM, February 1

Camelopardalis, the Giraffe, can be found between Perseus, Auriga and Lynx. The giraffe's hindquarters are located within the Milky Way. It is best seen in northern latitudes in February. This constellation was first observed to look like a camel. The name was eventually changed to camelopardalis, which is Latin for giraffe. When dark conditions allow most of the stars to be seen, the constellation does resemble a giraffe. In the winter months the giraffe appears upside down. Only during the summer months does it appear right side up. Other than a few double stars, this constellation does not contain much of interest. 

Points of Interest in Camelopardalis
Diagram of the constellation Camelopardalus
None

This constellation is composed mainly of faint stars.

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  Canis Major The Great Dog  

Pronunciation:  (KAY-nis MAY-jur) 
Abbreviation:  CMa   Genitive:  Canis Majoris
Right Ascension:  6.86 hours   Declination:  -21.98 degrees
Area in Square Degrees: 
380
Crosses Meridian:  9 PM, February 15

Canis Major, the Great Dog, is visible in the northern hemisphere from December through March. It is can be seen in the southern hemisphere between November and April. This constellation represents the larger of Orion's two hunting dogs who accompany him as he hunts Lepus, the rabbit. This constellation is the home of Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky. Also known as the Dog Star, this magnitude -1.46 star dominates the winter skies. Sirius can be easily located by drawing a straight line through the three belt stars in the constellation Orion. The name Sirius means "scorching", which more than likely refers to the star's unmatched brilliance in the night sky. Canis Major contains one Messier object, M41. This is an open star cluster containing about 100 stars.

Points of Interest in Canis Major
Diagram of the constellation Canis Major Object Name Type/Translation V Mag
1 M41 Open Star Cluster 4.6
2 Sirius "Scorching" -1.46
3 Murzim "The Roarer" 1.98
4 Muliphen "Star to Swear By" 4.12
5 Wezen "Weight" 1.84
6 Aludra "Maidenhead" 2.45
7 Adara  "Maidens" 1.5
8 Furud "Apes" 3.02
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  Columba The Dove  

Pronunciation:  (koh-LUM-buh) 
Abbreviation:  Col   Genitive:  Columbae
Right Ascension:  5.76 hours   Declination:  -35.29 degrees
Area in Square Degrees: 
270
Crosses Meridian:  9 PM, January 30

The constellation Columba takes the shape of a dove. It is best seen in northern latitudes during February. This constellation has two possible origins. It may represent the bird the Argonauts sent out ahead to help them navigate the narrow passage at the mouth of the Black Sea. Later accounts associate it with the dove Noah released during his voyage to find land. This dove returned with an olive branch in its beak, indicating dry land had been found. Columba consists of mainly dim stars.

 
Points of Interest in Columba
Diagram of the constellation Columba Object Name Type/Translation V Mag
1 Phaet "Dove" 2.64
2 Wezn "Weight" 3.12
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  Gemini The Twins  

Pronunciation:  (JEM-i-ny) 
Abbreviation:  Gem   Genitive:  Geminorum
Right Ascension:  7.19 hours   Declination:  22.69 degrees
Area in Square Degrees: 
514
Crosses Meridian:  9 PM, February 20

Gemini, the Twins, is visible in the northern hemisphere from November through April. The southern hemisphere can view it from December through March. This constellation was named after Castor and Pollux, two Greek heroes who were among the men Jason led on his voyages on the Argo. According to myth, they were actually half-brothers and not really twins. They shared the same mother, Leda, but had different fathers. Castor's father was a king of Sparta called Tyndareus, while the father of Pollux was Zeus himself. Gemini contains two of the most famous stars in the sky, Castor and Pollux. Pollux is the brighter of the two with a magnitude of 1.14. Castor is a binary system with a slight dimmer magnitude of 1.98. Gemini contains one Messier object. Known as M35, it is a fine open cluster of about 100 stars. This cluster can easily be observed with binoculars.

Points of Interest in Gemini
Diagram of the constellation Gemini Object Name Type/Translation V Mag
1 M35 Open Star Cluster 4.0
2 Castor "Beaver" 1.98
3 Pollux "Much Wine" 1.14
4 Alhena "Shining" 1.93
5 Wasat "Middle of the Sky" 3.53
6 Mebsuta "Outstretched Paw" 2.98
7 Mekbuda "Pulled In Paw" 3.79
8 Propus "Forward Foot" 3.28
9 Tejat Posterior "Back Foot" 2.88
10 Alzirr * 3.36
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  Lepus The Rabbit  

Pronunciation:  (LEE-pus) 
Abbreviation:  Lep   Genitive:  Leporus
Right Ascension:  5.58 hours   Declination:  -19.32 degrees
Area in Square Degrees: 
290
Crosses Meridian:  9 PM, January 25

Lepus, the Rabbit, is visible in the northern hemisphere in winter. It is located just below Orion and west of Canis Major and Minor. The rabbit is being hunted by Orion and his two hunting dogs, Canis Major and Canis Minor. Be careful not to confuse Lepus with another constellation Lupus, the wolf. The mythology of Lepus is uncertain. It is, however, an ancient constellation known at least since the time of the Greeks. It contains one Messier object, M79, which is a globular cluster located about 40,000 light-years from Earth.

Points of Interest in Lepus
Diagram of the constellation Lepus Object Name Type/Translation V Mag
1 M79 Globular Star Cluster 4.0
2 Nihal "The Camels" 2.84
3 Arneb "Hare" 2.58
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  Monoceros The Unicorn  

Pronunciation:  (moh-NOS-er-us) 
Abbreviation:  Mon   Genitive:  Monocerotis
Right Ascension:  7.15 hours   Declination:  -5.74 degrees
Area in Square Degrees: 
482
Crosses Meridian:  9 PM, February 20

Monoceros is a faint constellation associated in older times with the shape of a unicorn. The faint stars make its shape difficult to discern. This constellation is often overlooked since it is surrounded on all sides by Orion, Canis Major, Canis Minor, and Gemini. The origin of Monoceros is unclear. The first reference appeared in 1624 in Jakob Bartsch's star chart under the name "Unicornu". Monoceros contains one Messier object. Known as M50, it is an open cluster of about 200 stars. Another point of interest in this constellation is a star known as Beta Monocerotis. This is a unique triple star system. The three stars in the system form a tiny triangle when seen through a small telescope.

Points of Interest in Monoceros
Diagram of the constellation Monoceros Object Name Type/Translation V Mag
1 M50 Open Star Cluster 4.0
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  Pictor The Painter's Easel  

Pronunciation:  (PIK-ter) 
Abbreviation:  Pic   Genitive:  Pictoris
Right Ascension:  5.41 hours   Declination:  -50.3 degrees
Area in Square Degrees: 
247
Crosses Meridian:  9 PM, January 20

Pictor, the Painter's Easel is completely visible in latitudes south of 26 degrees north from November through January. It is best seen on northern latitudes in February. This constellation is one of 15 named by Abbé Nicolas Louis de Lacaille during his trip to the Cape of Good Hope in southern Africa. Lacaille originally named the constellation "Le Chevalet et la Palette", which means "The Painter's Easel and Palette". Its shape resembles that of a painting easel. Aside from a few faint binary stars, there is really nothing if interest to be seen in this constellation.

Points of Interest in Pictor
Diagram of the constellation Pictor
None

This constellation is composed mainly of faint stars.

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