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.
By Gwen Ranniger
Fertility issues are on the rise, and new literature points to ways that your environment may be part of the problem. We've rounded up some changes you can make in your life to promote a healthy reproductive system.
Infertility and Environmental Health: The Facts<ul> <li>Sperm count is declining steeply, significantly, and continuously in Western countries, with no signs of tapering off. Erectile dysfunction is on the rise, and women are facing increasing rates of miscarriage and difficulty conceiving.</li><li>Why? A huge factor is our environmental health. Hormones (particularly testosterone and estrogen) are what make reproductive function possible, and our hormones are increasingly being negatively affected by harmful, endocrine-disrupting chemicals commonplace in the modern world—in our homes, foods, and lifestyles.</li></ul>
What You Can Do About It<p>It should be noted that infertility can be caused by any number of factors, including medical conditions that cannot be solved with a simple change at home.</p><p><em>If you or a loved one are struggling with infertility, our hearts and sympathies are with you. Your pain is validated and we hope you receive answers to your struggles.</em></p><p>Read on to discover our tips to restore or improve reproductive health by removing harmful habits and chemicals from your environment.</p>
Edit Your Health<ul><li>If you smoke, quit! Smoking is toxic, period. If someone in your household smokes, urge them to quit or institute a no-smoking ban in the house. It is just as important to avoid secondhand smoke.</li><li>Maintain a healthy weight. Make sure your caloric intake is right for your body and strive for moderate exercise.</li><li>Eat cleanly! Focus on whole foods and less processed meals and snacks. Studies have found that eating a Mediterranean-style diet is linked to increased fertility.</li><li>Minimize negative/constant stress—or find ways to manage it. Hobbies such as meditation or yoga that encourage practiced breathing are great options to reduce the physical toll of stress.</li></ul>
Edit Your Home<p>We spend a lot of time in our homes—and care that what we bring into them will not harm us. You may not be aware that many commonly found household items are sources of harmful, endocrine-disrupting compounds. Read on to find steps you can take—and replacements you should make—in your home.</p><p><strong>In the Kitchen</strong></p><ul> <li>Buy organic, fresh, unprocessed foods whenever possible. <a href="https://www.ehn.org/clean-grocery-shopping-guide-2648563801.html" target="_blank">Read our grocery shopping guide for more tips about food.</a></li><li>Switch to glass, ceramics, or stainless steel for food storage: plastics often contain endocrine-disrupting chemicals that affect fertility. <a href="https://www.ehn.org/bpa-pollution-2645493129.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Learn more about the dangers of plastic here.</a></li><li>Ban plastic from the microwave. If you have a plastic splatter cover, use paper towel, parchment paper, or an upside-down plate instead.</li><li>Upgrade your cookware: non-stick may make life easier, but it is made with unsafe chemical compounds that seep into your food. Cast-iron and stainless steel are great alternatives.</li><li>Filter tap water. Glass filter pitchers are an inexpensive solution; if you want to invest you may opt for an under-the-sink filter.</li><li>Check your cleaning products—many mainstream products are full of unsafe chemicals. <a href="https://www.ehn.org/how-to-shop-for-cleaning-products-while-avoiding-toxics-2648130273.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Check out our guide to safe cleaning products for more info</a>.</li></ul><p><strong>In the Bathroom </strong></p><ul> <li>Check the labels on your bathroom products: <em>fragrance-free, paraben-free, phthalate-free</em> and organic labels are all great signs. You can also scan the ingredients lists for red-flag chemicals such as: triclosan, parabens, and dibutyl phthalate. Use the <a href="https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/" target="_blank">EWG Skin Deep database</a> to vet your personal products.</li><li>Ditch the vinyl shower curtain—that new shower curtain smell is chemical-off gassing. Choose a cotton or linen based curtain instead.</li><li>Banish air fresheners—use natural fresheners (an open window, baking soda, essential oils) instead.</li></ul><p><strong>Everywhere Else</strong></p><ul><li>Remove wall-to-wall carpet. If you've been considering wood or tile, here's your sign: many synthetic carpets can emit harmful chemicals for years. If you want a rug, choose wool or plant materials such as jute or sisal.</li><li>Prevent dust build-up. Dust can absorb chemicals in the air and keep them lingering in your home. Vacuum rugs and wipe furniture, trim, windowsills, fans, TVs, etc. Make sure to have a window open while you're cleaning!</li><li>Leave shoes at the door! When you wear your shoes throughout the house, you're tracking in all kinds of chemicals. If you like wearing shoes inside, consider a dedicated pair of "indoor shoes" or slippers.</li><li>Clean out your closet—use cedar chips or lavender sachets instead of mothballs, and use "green" dry-cleaning services over traditional methods. If that isn't possible, let the clothes air out outside or in your garage for a day before putting them back in your closet.</li><li>Say no to plastic bags!</li><li>We asked 22 endocrinologists what products they use - and steer clear of—in their homes. <a href="https://www.ehn.org/nontoxic-products-2648564261.html" target="_blank">Check out their responses here</a>.</li></ul>
Learn More<ul><li>For more information and action steps, be sure to check out <em>Count Down: How Our Modern World Is Threatening Sperm Counts, Altering Male and Female Reproductive Development, and Imperiling the Future of the Human Race</em> by EHS adjunct scientist Shanna Swan, PhD: <a href="https://www.shannaswan.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">available for purchase here.</a></li><li><a href="https://www.ehn.org/st/Subscribe_to_Above_The_Fold" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Sign up for our Above the Fold Newsletter </a>to stay up to date about impacts on the environment and your health.</li></ul>
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