There are the first signs of spring in this month’s night sky even though the winter constellations are clearly on display.
The Plough is now higher in the north east, with its handle pointing in the general direction of the horizon. If you follow the curve of the handle you will come to a bright orange star low in the sky. This is Arcturus in the constellation of Bootes. Arcturus is the brightest star in the spring sky.
The ‘W’ of Cassiopeia is high in the north west.
Orion still dominates the southern part of the sky. However, as Orion is a little to the west of south, now is the best time to see Sirius the Dog Star. This is the brightest star in the sky. Using the three stars that form Orion’s belt to form a line, continue down that line and you will reach Sirius.
The stars are a very long way away. Sirius, although the brightest, is in fact very close to us, at around 8.5 light years away.
The other winter stars, Aldebaran and the Seven Sisters in Taurus are now starting to get lower in the west, while Castor and Pollux together with Procyon are now at their highest points. Capella is still high, being just past the overhead position. However, while Capella is very high, Vega, which occupied the overhead point in summer, is now at its lowest, close to the northern horizon.
In the second half of February Mercury is visible low down in the west after sunset. It reaches its greatest eastern elongation on the 27th of the month. Mercury fades from magnitude –1.1 to –0.1 by the end of this month, when it is setting around 7.30pm
It’s busy before sunrise with Venus, Jupiter and Saturn all making an appearance. Venus rises at 5am, and hangs like a radiant lantern in the pre-dawn sky at magnitude –4.2.
The red planet starts the month in the constellation of Pisces. Shining at magnitude +1.0 it falls below the horizon at 9.30pm. By the end of February Mars will found in the constellation of Aries.
Leading the parade of planets in the early morning sky Jupiter rises above the horizon around 3.30am. Dazzling at Magnitude –2.0 you will find the gas giant in the constellation of Ophiuchus.
At the start of the month Saturn is positioned to the lower left of Venus, way down in the twilight glow in the constellation of Sagittarius, with a magnitude of +0.6. The two planets are converging, and Saturn lies below Venus on the morning of 18th February, almost a hundred times fainter
Uranus is just on the edge of naked –eye visibility at magnitude +5.8. It is usually difficult to identify among the background stars. But there is a golden opportunity on the 12th February, using Mars as your guide. Try fining the red planet. Use binoculars, which provide a wider field of vision. Uranus is the faint greenish star one degree to the left. This month Uranus moves into the constellation of Aries and sets bellow the horizon around 9.30pm.
The distant planet Neptune skulks in the constellation of Aquarius. With a magnitude of +7.9, it sets around 7pm. Neptune disappears into the twilight glow mid month.
Pluto can be observed in a ten-inch or larger telescope. It can be found in the constellation of Sagittarius.
On the 18th February. The Moon can be found hovering near the Beehive cluster and is joined by both Venus and Saturn before sunrise.
Phases of the Moon this month are:-
New Moon 4th February
First quarter 12th February
Full Moon 19th February
Last quarter 26th February