Night sky in February Highlights

2nd February Occultation of Saturn ends 45 minutes after Saturn rises.

12th February Comet 2018 Y1 expected to be at its brightest (mag 7.7)

18th February Venus and Saturn are about 1º separation from each other

26th February Mercury is at its greatest eastern elongation from the Sun (13º above the western horizon around 7 pm.)

The chart above shows the night sky on the 1st February around 10 pm, although if you want to see Venus, Jupiter and Saturn the best time will be just before dawn.

A word about “Occultations”, this is when the Moon passes in front of a distant object. Not a rare event, but more interesting when a bright star or planet suddenly disappears because the Moon has moved in front of it. Due to the size and distance of the Moon any particular occultation event is seen from a large area, but not the whole hemisphere facing the Moon. This year Saturn is occulted 12 times, but only 1 is visible from Europe. On 2nd February, Saturn will be behind the Moon when they both rise around 6:30. Saturn will reappear from behind the dark rim of the Moon around 7:18, but both objects will be very low down in the South-Eastern sky, about 7º above the horizon, follow a line down from Jupiter through Venus. Difficult but worth noting for anyone out at that time with a clear view to the South-East.

Moon Phases

Feb 4 New Moon

Feb 12 First quarter

Feb 19 Full Moon

Feb 26 Last quarter

Planets (all times are Local Spanish time)

Mercury:- Mercury is only 2º away from the Sun at the start of the month, but is at its greatest eastern elongation on 26th, when it is about 12º above the western horizon at 7:15 pm but it will set about 1 hour later.

Venus:- Venus easily visible in the early morning eastern sky just before Sunrise, gradually getting lower as the month progress. By the 28th it rises around 5:30 am and only reaches an elevation of 15º before the dawn breaks at 7:15.

Mars:- Mars is visible, about 50º above the south-western horizon, as soon as it becomes dark in the evening. By 11pm it is getting too close to the western horizon to be properly observed, and sets around midnight.

Jupiter:- Jupiter is now an early morning object. At the start of the month it doesn’t rise until 4:30 but will be rising nearer 3 o’clock by the end of the month. So for people up at dawn Jupiter is the bright object higher, and further to the south than Venus.

Saturn:- Saturn rises just before the Sun and on the 2nd Saturn is occulted by the Moon (see leading text).

On the morning of the 18th Saturn appears close to Venus about 1º away, and if you have a clear view down to the horizon and time it right you might also see the ISS (see diagram below).

Uranus:- Uranus is visible early evening once it becomes dark. Initially about 56º above the south-western horizon at 7:20pm. By the end of the month this will have changed to 35º above the western horizon at 7:50pm. Setting about 4 hours after the Sun

Neptune:- Neptune is now getting to low down in the sky and close to the Sun at dusk to be properly observed.

Looking South-East before dawn look out to see the bright planets Jupiter and Venus. On the 18th the planet Saturn is about 1º away from Venus. The bright object just above the horizon is the International Space Station, which on the 18th at 7:20 am, will briefly move across from right to left, but very low down, never getting more than 5º above the horizon.

 Meteor Showers

There are no major meteor showers this month. A minor one is the “Delta Leonids” (not to be confused with the “Leonids” later in the year) which occurs between 15th February to 10th March, with its peak being around the 25th February. The origin of this shower is uncertain, and was identified as a shower in the early 20th century. At that time the number of meteors was around 7 per hour, but this number has gradually reduced to nearer 2 or 3 today and seems to be a temporary shower that won’t be around forever. But if you are lucky enough to see one, the meteors have been described as slow moving (for a meteor) with a typical magnitude of 2.8.

Comets

Comet 2018 Y1 (Iwamoto) is expected to be at its brightest around the 12th February, when it will be in an easily identifiable area of Leo (see chart below) and 5 days later will be near the bright star Castor in Gemini.

But with a magnitude of 7.7 this comet will not be a naked eye object. Depending upon how condensed the comet’s head is, it may be observable with binoculars, the only way to know for sure is to look. But for anyone with a camera, worth having a go.

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