Venus is cheering up the dark February skies as the glorious Evening star. 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.
The evening star grows ever brighter as it rises into darker skies after sunset. Reaching magnitude –4.2 by the months end. Venus falls below the horizon around 10pm.
During the first half of the month, look low down on the horizon to the lower right of Venus, to spot Mercury, making its best evening appearance of the year. The innermost planet drops below the horizon about 6.50pm. Magnitude –0.5. On the 10th of this month Mercury is at its greatest elongation from the Sun.
This distant world skulks low in the south west in the constellation of Aquarius. Between the much brighter Venus and Mercury. With a magnitude of +7.9, it sets around 7pm. Neptune disappears into the twilight glow by the end of the month. You may just catch a view with binoculars or a telescope.
This distant world is just on the edge of naked –eye visibility at magnitude +5.8. It is usually difficult to identify among the background stars. This month Uranus lies on the borders of the constellations of Aries and Pisces. It sets bellow the horizon around 11.30pm.
The red planet rises in the south east about 4.30am, moving from the constellation of Ophiuchus into Sagittarius. At magnitude +1.2. On the mornings of the 17th and 18th of February, there will be a lovely sight as Mars passes between the Lagoon and trifid Nebulae.
Following Mars in the parade of planets in the early morning sky Jupiter rises above the horizon around 5.30am. Dazzling at Magnitude –1.9 you will find the gas giant in the constellation of Sagittarius.
Right at the end of this month you may see a third planet in the constellation of Sagittarius, to the lower left of Jupiter. The ring world Saturn at magnitude moves above the south east horizon about 6am.
This distant planet can be observed in a ten-inch or larger telescope, at magnitude +14.4. It can be found in the constellation of Sagittarius.
The largest object in the asteroid belt can be located at magnitude +8.89 in the constellation of Sagittarius this month.
3rd February – The first quarter Moon will be in the constellation of Taurus. To the upper right of the Moon you will find the Pleiades star cluster, and to its left the red star Aldebaran. The stars of the Hyades star cluster are visible between the Moon and Aldebaran. As the Moon sets it occults some of the Hyades stars.
9th February – There is a super moon tonight, with the full Moon bigger and brighter than usual. The bright star close to the Moon is Regulus.
12th February – The Moon will be near the bright star Spica in the constellation of Virgo.
18th to 20th February – On the morning of the 18th February, the crescent Moon lies to the right of Mars. The following morning it’s to the left of Mars and the right of Jupiter. Low in the dawn twilight on 20th February, you can see the thinnest crescent Moon to the lower left of Jupiter, with Saturn to the left of the Moon.
26th to 28th February – The crescent Moon appears in the evening sky with Venus, forming a beautiful close pairing with the Evening star on the 27th.
Phases of the Moon this month are:-
First quarter 2nd February
Full Moon 9th February
Last quarter 5th February
New Moon 23rd February