To see a video of this information, go to my YouTube Channel
Welcome to Observing With Webb, where the armchair astronomer figures out what they’re looking at, why it’s so cool, and what they should check out next. Don’t forget to check out my Podbean page, YouTube Channel, and Twitter feed.
February is shaping up to be a decent month for observing, though temperatures will likely be very low. Venus dominates the evening sky, with Mars right nearby, Jupiter is out longer, you might catch Saturn and we’ll also have a penumbral lunar eclipse.
PLANETS...well, the ones visible with your naked eye
Planets you can see around Sunset – Venus (SW), Mars (SW)
Planets you can see throughout the night – Jupiter (EàS)
Planets you can see in the Morning – Jupiter (S), Saturn (SE)
Mercury – Not worth looking for this month
Venus – Look SW after sunset, and Venus will be about 35˚ above the horizon, very bright, and will set before 9:00pm. If you have a telescope or binoculars, it will APPEAR as big as Jupiter, since it’s coming around the inside of its orbit, relative to Earth. It starts as a half phase, and by month’s end will be a crescent.
Mars – Look SW after sunset and find Venus. Mars will be the ruddy red object up and to the left of bright brilliant Venus. In the beginning of the month Mars will be about 5˚ from Venus, and get to about 10˚ (a fist-width) away by the end of the month.
Saturn – Look SE in the mornings before sunrise. It will only be about 20˚ above the horizon, much brighter than anything else around it.
Jupiter – If you’re looking for Jupiter before going to bed, it rises in the East at 11:30pm at the beginning of the month, at 9:30pm at the end of the month. Just look for the very bright object low in the East if you’re staying up late, or if you’re getting up early, look to the SSW, halfway up the sky.
1st – Close Encounter – Moon, Mars, Venus – Look to the SW between 5:30pm and 8:30pm and you can catch a nice crescent Moon making a straight line with ruddy red Mars and brilliantly bright Venus all within 15˚ of each other
First Quarter Moon – 4th (Visible until midnight)
10th – Not really news Penumbral Eclipse – You might see some press about a lunar eclipse, but don’t worry too much about it. The Moon is only entering the dimmer outer shadow of the Moon, called the Penumbra. Usually I would say not to worry at all, but this is a very deep penumbral eclipse, hence the shading will actually reach an obvious level this time. You probably won’t notice anything until possibly 7:00 – 8:30 pm EST. Looking at the Full Moon that night, you might notice the top of it looking a little bit dimmer, since the fuzzy part of the Earth’s shadow is there. It will reach maximum shading at 7:44 EST. Look out for conspiracy theorist memes. J
Full Moon – 10th (Visible all night)
14th–16th – Close Encounter – Moon, Jupiter – Look E after 11:00pm or S before 6:30am. On the 14th/15th, the Moon, Jupiter, and Arcturus will make a nice triangle or arc in the sky, with the Moon above the very bright Jupiter, and Arcturus down and to the right of Jupiter. On the next night (15th/16th), the Moon will be to the left of both Jupiter and Arcturus, making a nice triangle
Last Quarter Moon – 18th (Visible from midnight into the morning)
20th-21st – Close Encounter – Moon, Saturn – Look SE after 4am and before sunrise (6:50am). Saturn will be the very bright point 7˚ down and to the left of the waning crescent Moon on the 20th. On the 21st the slightly thinner crescent Moon will have moved to be about 7˚ to the right of Saturn.
New Moon – 26th (darkest skies) – There’s a solar eclipse happening, but only for those in parts of South America and Africa. More info here
28th – Close Encounter – Moon, Venus, Mars – Look to the W after sunset, but before 8:00pm and you can see a beautiful triangle made by a thin crescent Moon. Venus will be 10˚ up and to the right of the Moon, with Mars 13˚ directly above the Moon.
CONSTELLATIONS... (see sky map link at the bottom for a Star Map for this month – or ask Mr. Webb) Look straight up and you'll see...
After Sunset (sunset is around 5:00-5:30pm) – Perseus, Taurus, Auriga – Extra Challenge! Right in the middle of Perseus is an open cluster called Mel 20. If you take binoculars and look around Perseus, you’ll see plenty of stars, but right in the middle where Mel 20 is, there are a lot more than you can see anywhere else in Perseus, hence they call it a cluster of stars.
Between Sunset and Midnight – Auriga (Taurus is right nearby), Gemini
Midnight – Cancer, Gemini, Lynx, and Leo later in the month
Early Morning – Corona Borealis, Hercules, Boötes (you can also find the Big Dipper’s handle, and starting from the inside of the handle, follow the arc that those four stars make past the last star in the handle about 30˚ or three fist-widths to the next very bright star you find which is Arcturus, the base of the constellation Boötes. Hence astronomers use the phrase “Follow the Arc to Arcturus”)
GENERAL CONSTELLATION FINDING TIPS:
Winter constellations: Orion is easy to spot as he is already high in the South when it gets dark. You can use Orion to find many other winter constellations.
Using Orion: Find Orion by looking for the three stars in a row that make up Orion’s belt in the South. If you draw a line from the left star to the right star and keep going right about 20 degrees (about 2 fists at arm’s length) until you reach another very bright star, you will have reached the star Aldebaron in Taurus (the V). Follow that line a little more (about another fist) and you’ll find the Pleiades.
Draw a line from the right star in Orion’s belt to the left star, and keep going left about 20 degrees (2 fists again), you’ll come to the brightest star in the sky – Sirius – part of Canis Major.
Above these three constellations are Gemini and Auriga. The brightest stars in each of these constellations form a circle in the sky. Going clockwise - Aldebaron (Taurus) – Rigel (Orion – bottom right foot) – Sirius (Canis Major) – Procyon (Canis Minor) – Castor & Pollux (Gemini) – Capella (Auriga). It makes for great stargazing in the winter sky.
Use a sky map from www.skymaps.com to help you out.