Algol (β Per) is a bright eclipsing binary system located in the northern constellation of Perseus and one of the best-known variable stars in the sky. Often referred to as the "Demon Star" most of the time it shines at mag. +2.1 but every two days, 20 hours and 49 minutes the star suddenly dips in brightness to mag. +3.4, remaining dim for about 10 hours before returning to its original state.

Why the change in brightness? The Algol system consists of at least three-stars (β Per A, β Per B and β Per C) with the orbital plane of Algol A and B directly in line with the Earth. The regular dips in brightness occur when the dimmer B star moves in front of and eclipses the brighter A star. There is also an extra dimension in that a secondary eclipse occurs when the brighter star occults the fainter secondary resulting in a very small dip in brightness that can be detected with photo-electrical equipment.

Algol System (credit:- Dept. of Physics and Astronomy - Univ. of Tennessee at Knoxville)

Algol is located in Perseus among the stars of the northern Milky Way. It's positioned west of mag. +0.1 star Capella (α Aur) and southeast of the well known "W" of Cassiopeia. The finder chart below shows the position of Algol along with magnitude data of some surrounding stars for comparative purposes.

Finder Chart for Algol (credit:- freestarcharts)

Finder Chart for Algol - pdf format (credit:- freestarcharts)

For those new to variable star observing, Algol is an excellent first choice target. It dims quite dramatically and the regular brightness changes are obvious to the naked eye. The table below contains date and time information of Algol's minima for February 2017 for various World time zones that cover most regions of Europe, America, China and Australia. For time zones not listed, local eclipse times can be calculated by adjusting the table to fit to the observers local time.

Algol Minima for February 2017

DateTime (UT-GMT)Time (CET-Europe)Time (ET-N America)Time (PT-N America)Time (CST-China)Time (AEDT-Australia)
Feb 0301:1702:1720:17 (Feb 02)17:17 (Feb 02)09:1712:17
Feb 0522:0723:0717:0714:0706:07 (Feb 06)09:07 (Feb 06)
Feb 0818:5619:5613:5610:5602:56 (Feb 09)05:56 (Feb 09)
Feb 1115:4516:4510:4507:4523:4502:45 (Feb 12)
Feb 1412:3513:3507:3504:3520:3523:35
Feb 1709:2410:2404:2401:2417:2420:24
Feb 2006:1307:1301:1322:13 (Feb 19)14:1317:13
Feb 2303:0204:0222:02 (Feb 22)19:02 (Feb 22)11:0214:02
Feb 2523:5200:52 (Feb 26)18:5215:5207:52 (Feb 26)10:52 (Feb 26)
Feb 2820:4121:4115:4112:4104:41 (Mar 01)07:41 (Mar 01)

Sky Highlights - February 2017

Comets
Comet Encke (2P/Encke) now visible in the western sky during evening twilight
Now is the last good chance to see comet 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdusakova before it dramatically fades

Conjunction
Mars passes less than 1 degree north of Uranus on February 27th

Minor Planet
Vesta now visible with binoculars and small telescopes.

The Planets
This Month's Guide

Algol Minima
Algol eclipse dates and times for February 2017

Northern Hemisphere
Evening
Southwest:- Venus (mag. -4.8), Mars (mag. +1.1 to +1.3), Uranus (mag. +5.9)
Midnight
East:- Jupiter (mag. -2.1 to -2.3)
Morning
South:- Jupiter
Southeast:- Saturn (mag. +0.6)

Southern Hemisphere
Evening
West:- Venus, Mars, Uranus
Midnight
East:- Jupiter
Morning
North:- Jupiter
East:- Saturn, Mercury (mag. -0.2 - first half of month)

Deep Sky
Naked eye / binoculars:-
Messier 45 - M45 - The Pleiades (Open Cluster)
The Hyades - Open Cluster
Messier 44 - M44 - The Praesepe (Open Cluster)
Messier 35 - M35 - Open Cluster
Messier 42 - M42 - The Great Orion Nebula (Emission/Reflection)

Small telescopes:-
Messier 36 - M36 - Open Cluster
Messier 37 - M37 - Open Cluster
Messier 38 - M38 - Open Cluster

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