Natural Calendar - February 2018

The purpose of this feature is to give scout leaders, educators and naturalists an idea of some of the natural events coming up each month.  We will try to cover a variety of natural events ranging from sky events to calling periods of amphibians, bird and mammal watching tips,  prominent wildflowers and anything else that comes to mind.  We will also note prominent constellations appearing over the eastern horizon at mid-evening each month for our area for those who would like to learn the constellations.  If you have suggestions for other types of natural information you would like to see added to this calendar, let us know!

Note: You can click on the hyperlinks to learn more about some of the featured items.  To return to the Calendar, hit the "back" button on your browser, NOT the "back" button on the web page.  All charts are available in a "printer friendly" mode, with black stars on a white background.  Left clicking on each chart will take you to a printable black and white image.  Please note that images on these pages are meant to be displayed at 100%.  If your browser zooms into a higher magnification than that, the images may lose quality.

Though we link book references to nationwide sources, we encourage you to support your local book store whenever possible.

 

Notes and Images From January 2018

 
Sandhill Cranes at dusk, Hiawasee National Wildlife Refuge, January 4th

Sky Events for February 2018:

Evening Sky:  

Uranus is visible in binoculars this month if you are patient and take the time to look it.  Look for it just as soon as it is completely dark. Finder charts are here. If you have an app like Sky Safari (see "Recommended" below) it makes the hunt a lot easier.

Venus moves into the evening sky this month.  Look for it in the latter part of the month low in the Southwest.

Morning Sky:

Jupiter, May 8th, 2015, 20 Inch Newtonian Reflector and ZWO ASI120MCS Camera
Jupiter rises about 1:06am CST in Libra at the beginning of the month.  For best telescopic views, wait till just before dawn, when the planet is higher.

Mars will rise around 2:07am CST at the beginning of the month, in Scorpius.  Look for it before dawn to the left and below bright Jupiter.  In binoculars the rusty color is easy to see.  In the telescope it appears quite small, around 5.6 arc-seconds in apparent diameter. 

Saturn rises about 4:30am CST at the beginning of the month in Sagittarius.  Just before dawn will give the best views.

All times noted in the Sky Events are for Franklin, Tennessee and are in Central Standard Time.  These times should be pretty close anywhere in the mid-state area.

 

Constellations:  The views below show the sky looking east at 9:30pm CST on February 15th.  The first view shows the sky with the constellations outlined and names depicted.  Star and planet names are in green.  Constellation names are in blue.  The second view shows the same scene without labels.

Messier 81, February 2010.  6 inch Refractor and SBIG ST-2000XCM Camera 
Ursa Major , the Great Bear, is now prominent in the northeast.  All of the bright stars of Leo, the Lion, are visible now, including Denebola, the bright star at the tip of the Lion's tail.  Part of the constellation of Virgo is visible below Leo.  It's handy to know where Denebola is, because below it, if you imagine sliding down the Lion's tail, is the great Virgo cluster of galaxies.  Left of Denebola, on a line towards the handle end of the "big dipper," you will see the faint star cluster Mellotte 111, in Coma Berenices.  With a telescope, you can use the stars in this cluster to star-hop to the wonderful edge-on galaxy NGC 4565.  A brighter target is Messier 81 in Ursa Major, visible faintly in binoculars.  You will want to choose a moonless night far from city lights to view both of these objects. The constellation of Crater has now cleared the horizon.

 

 
February 15th, 9:30pm, Looking East 
February 15th, 9:30pm, Looking East

On Learning the Constellations: We advise learning a few constellations each month, and then following them through the seasons.  Once you associate a particular constellation coming over the eastern horizon at a certain time of year, you may start thinking about it like an old friend, looking forward to its arrival each season.  The stars in the evening scene above, for instance, will always be in the same place relative to the horizon at the same time and date each February.  In particular, learn the brightest stars (like Regulus and Denebola in the above scene), for they will guide you to the fainter stars.  Once you can locate the more prominent constellations, you can "branch out" to other constellations around them.  It may take you a little while to get a sense of scale, to translate what you see on the computer screen or what you see on the page of a book to what you see in the sky.  Look for patterns, like the stars of Leo.

The earth's rotation causes the constellations to appear to move across the sky just as the Sun and the Moon appear to do.  If you go outside earlier than the time shown on the charts, the constellations will be lower to the eastern horizon.  If you observe later, they will have climbed higher. 

As each season progresses, the earth's motion around the sun causes the constellations to appear a little farther towards the west each night for any given time of night.  If you want to see where the constellations in the above figures will be on March 15th at 9:30pm CST, you can stay up till 11:30pm CST on the February 15th and get a preview.  The westward motion of the constellations is equivalent to two hours per month. 

Recommended:

Sky & Telescope's Pocket Star Atlas is beautiful, compact star atlas. 

A good book to learn the constellations is Patterns in the Sky, by Hewitt-White

For skywatching tips, an inexpensive good guide is Secrets of Stargazing, by Becky Ramotowski. 

A good general reference book on astronomy is the Peterson Field Guide, A Field Guide to the Stars and Planets, by Pasachoff.  The book retails for around $14.00. 

Apps:  We really love the Sky Safari 6 Pro.  It is available for both iOS and Android operating systems.  There are three versions.  The Pro is simply the best astronomy app we've ever seen.  The description of the Pro version reads, "includes over 100 million stars, 3 million galaxies down to 18th magnitude, and 750,000 solar system objects; including every comet and asteroid ever discovered."

For upcoming events, the Sky Week application is quite nice.  Available for both I-phone and Android operating systems. Included in the Sky Safari 6 app.

Another great app is the Photographer's Ephemeris.  Great for finding sunrise, moonrise, sunset and moonset times and the precise place on the horizon that the event will occur.  Invaluable not only for planning photographs, but also nice to plan an outing to watch the full moon rise.  Available for both androids and iOS.

 

Amphibians:

 
Crawfish Frog
The amphibian season continues to build in February.  One trick to finding amphibians in winter is to go out on mild (50 degrees Fahrenheit or warmer) rainy nights.  It is important for safety reasons that you have another person with you to help watch for traffic as you slowly drive the back roads. Look for things that cross the road in front of you and stop frequently and listen.  Early breeding frogs like Upland Chorus Frogs, Spring Peepers and  Wood Frogs are already calling by the first of the month.  On warmer nights listen for Southern Leopard FrogsSpotted Salamanders and Tiger Salamanders also breed in January and February, and the eggs of both can often be found this time of year.  Towards the end of the month, given mild temperatures, you can sometimes hear American Toads beginning to call. In west Tennessee, Crawfish Frogs give their loud snoring calls starting in late February and continuing on into early March.  At higher elevations, listen for Mountain Chorus Frogs towards the end of the month.  Remember that on mild nights you may find frogs and toads out foraging that you do not hear until later in the season. 

Recommended:  The Frogs and Toads of North America, Lang Elliott, Houghton Mifflin Co.

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Nature Notes Archives:  Nature Notes was a page we published in 2001 and 2002 containing our observations about everything from the northern lights display of November 2001 to frog and salamander egg masses..

Night scenes prepared with The Sky Professional from Software Bisquee

All images and recordings 2018 Leaps.