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Saturn runs rings around competitors

Saturn rules this month, high in the Southeast in the sun's fading light. The ringed planet will be visible most of the night and can be found near the moon on Tuesday evening and Feb. 29. With the rings favorably tilted 26 degrees toward us and the planet nearer to Earth, Saturn-viewing is the best it has been in years.

Check below for opportunities to view Saturn that are being offered in the bay area.

The brighter "star" that rises after Saturn is Jupiter. The largest planet will clear the eastern horizon about 9 p.m. in early February and at sunset by the month's end. Jupiter is always a spectacular sight through a telescope, with prominent cloud belts on its surface and four large moons orbiting it.

Venus is visible in the west-southwest at dusk. The planet is lovely now, but it will get even higher and brighter in the months to come. It is easily the brightest "star" in sky. Don't miss the awesome sight of Venus with the crescent moon on Feb. 22 and Feb. 23.

As Earth moves away from Mars, the planet's brightness continues to fade, making it a mere shadow of itself months ago. Look for Mars next to the crescent moon after sunset on Feb. 25.

Mercury can be seen before dawn during the first few days of February, about five degrees above the southeast horizon.

Daryl L. Schrader is an astronomy and mathematics professor at St. Petersburg College and teaches astronomy at the University of South Florida.