February Skies

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Tiny Mercury puts in a brief but very bright appearance during early to mid-February. It reaches its greatest elongation from the sun on the 16th. Shining at magnitude -0.6 a small telescope will reveal its tiny disk exactly half illuminated. Thereafter it rapidly dims and sinks below the western horizon.

Mars, shining at magnitude +1.2, can be found below Mercury but you’ll likely need good binoculars or a small telescope to spot it.

Jupiter continues its association with Taurus, dimming slightly as the month progresses. High in the early evening sky it reaches quadrature (90 degrees east of the sun) on the 25th. This is a good time to search for the shadows of the Galilean moons on the planet. You’ll need a moderate sized telescope for this quest.

Saturn rises in the east about two hours before Jupiter sets in the west. Saturn’s rings are tilted a whopping 19.3 degrees from edge on. This will be the greatest tilt of the rings this year. For those with access to a small telescope, this is a good time to look for the shadow of the rings cast upon the planet.

Venus, heading for conjunction with the sun in March, will be very low on the east-southeast horizon soon to disappear from our view.

The moon will be last quarter on the 3rd, new on the 10th, first quarter on the 17th and full on the 25th.

Looking south-southwest about an hour before sunrise, the last quarter Moon will be below and slightly to the left of the ringed planet Saturn. About 45 minutes after sunset on Feb. 11, the new crescent moon will hang just above the west-southwest horizon and above and to the right of the planet Mercury.

At about 7 p.m. on the 17th and 18th the waxing gibbous moon will be found on either side of the giant planet Jupiter which is still hanging out in Taurus near the bright red giant star Aldebaran. Looking south-southeast on the 28th around 11 p.m., the moon will pass very close to the bright star Spica in the constellation Virgo. On the following night it will be close to Saturn.

Clear Skies!