Night sky in February Highlights

By Mike Glazier

Most probably the months of January and February are the best for seeing the section of the milky way which runs in the northern and western skies from Cygnus in the north albeit low down, through Cassiopeia, Perseus and Auriga, right down to Gemini and Orion.

Apart from Orion in the South the most prominent constellation is Gemini with the two stars Castor and Pollux; Some people get the names of these two confused but an easy way of identifying them is Castor is the fainter of the two and is closer to the north celestial pole. Again, Castor is the most interesting of the two because it is a multiple system containing no less than six individual stars.

To dissect Orion here would not be of much use to readers because I am sure that most people are aware of this group, but of more interest would be the positioning of Sirius (Alpha Canis Majoris) the dog star which can be found by following a line from the belt of Orion down to the left-hand side. Sirius is the brightest star in the northern hemisphere and on a winter’s night can be seen ‘flashing’ a range of colours due to both low altitude and atmospherics. Sirius has a magnitude of -1.4 (very bright) and although located from Orion is in reality the Alpha star in Canis Major (The big dog).

Taurus can be found by looking North and represents the Bull. It can be located just below Gemini and this month the lead star Aldebaran will be the subject of an occultation, basically an eclipse and visible from here on 5th of February. The Moon which will occult Aldebaran will be at a waxing phase (i.e. growing), Aldebaran will be occulted from the unlit part of the Moon from 22.57 CET to a few minutes past midnight. London will miss this event or at the very least from there it will be visible as a ‘grazing event’.

For those who need to know the lunar phases for this month

First quarter is on 4th,

Full Moon is on 11th

New Moon is on 26th

The planets

Mercury will be too close to the Sun to be observable.

Venus will be seen to brighten from magnitude -4.4 to -4.7 and located in the evening sky without the need for any directions to be given, below the square of Pegasus.

Mars   Once Venus has been scrutinized preferably with the use of optical aid, Mars will be seen very close by, in fact the two will be almost side by side. Unfortunately, Mars will not be particularly bright, its giveaway will be the ruddy colour that is typical of this planet. The planet’s magnitude will fade from 0.9 to 1.1 during the month, the one saving grace being that it will be an evening object and therefore at least, sociable. Worth a look then!

Jupiter. During the early morning hours of February 15th-16th, the giant planet will be seen close to a large waning moon. The planet’s magnitude will be somewhere between -2.1 to -2.3, very respectable! Added to this Jupiter will be in the constellation Virgo and just below the planet you will see the star Spica. You should not get the two confused with each other, because the rule is that stars ‘twinkle’ or scintillate but normally planets do not.

Saturn, visible just above the tree lines to the S.E.  will be close to the moon at around 5.30 a.m. on 19th into 21st of February. Its magnitude will be disappointing at 0.5 so you will need to be pretty determined if you plan to get up early to view this, the ringed planet.

There will be a penumbral eclipse of the moon at 0044 hours U.T. ( add one hour for local Spanish time) on February 11th during the full moon . This eclipse will be visible in Europe, Middle east and Africa. This will not be anywhere near spectacular because the darkest part of the shadow will not be affected; just expect some dimming effects.

The annular solar eclipse of February 26th will only be visible from the south Atlantic ocean.

There are no meteor showers to report for February although it is pertinent to note that sporadics or rogue meteors can appear at any time, as has been reported many times recently by the American meteor society

Enjoy your sky watching however you plan to do it.