Stargazing in February: The Penumbral Lunar Eclipse
By Kelly Kizer Whitt
If you had the good fortune to have clear skies in January, you may have noticed what looks like an especially bright star near the western horizon after sunset. In fact, it's not a star at all but the radiant planet Venus, shining brighter than all other stars and planets.
If you spotted Venus, then you probably saw Mars too, even if you didn't know it. Mars is just to the upper left of Venus, a reddish point of light that looks more intensely red if you view it through binoculars.
January ended with the moon in a close pairing with Venus and Mars. In February the moon will be a little higher every evening as it waxes toward full. The full moon occurs on Feb. 10, when a penumbral lunar eclipse will occur. A penumbral lunar eclipse is when the moon enters the outer fringes of Earth's shadow, a type of lunar eclipse that is less noticeable because the moon gets only slightly darker.
If you are in the eastern U.S., you will see the lunar eclipse in its entirety; if you're in the Midwest, you'll see the eclipse underway as the moon rises. Viewers along the west coast will see the moon rise right around the time of maximum eclipse. The final stages of the eclipse will be visible as the moon begins to brighten again.
If you follow the moon's path across the sky from night to night and month to month, you will see it trace out a specific route known as the ecliptic. This path is the plane of the solar system where you can also find the planets and, in the daytime, the sun.
But distant stars also lie along the path of the ecliptic and sometimes the moon draws particularly close to some of the bright stars as seen from our point of view, even passing directly in front of them. The brightest stars that are occasionally occulted by the moon are Aldebaran, Antares, Pollux, Regulus and Spica.
If you learn the stars near the ecliptic and the constellations they're in, you're well on your way to getting to know significant chunks of the night sky. On Feb. 5 the moon is near Aldebaran, a star cluster known as Hyades that makes up part of the V-shaped head of Taurus.
On Feb. 8, the bright star to the upper left of the moon is Pollux and the bright star next to Pollux is its twin, Castor. These two stars mark the heads of Gemini, the Twins.
On Feb. 10 and 11, the moon is close to Regulus, part of the constellation Leo and the bottom point in the backward question mark shape that makes up the lion's head. On Feb. 14 and 15, the moon passes not only bright Spica in the constellation Virgo, but Jupiter, which happens to be quite close to the star right now. Virgo and the moon won't rise above the horizon until late in the evening.
The last star that the moon occasionally occults, Antares, is currently a morning star. The moon comes near to Antares as it passes through the constellation Scorpius on Feb. 19. If you're up before the sun, you can spot the moon above Antares. The bright point of light off to their left is Saturn.
Reposted with permission from our media associate SIERRA Magazine.
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
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