February 2015

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February is fairly interesting, given a close encounter between Mars and Venus as well as encounters between the Moon and all of the naked eye planets.


PLANETS...well, the ones visible with your naked eye

Planets you can see around Sunset –Venus, Mars (SW), Jupiter (E)

Planets you can see throughout the night – Jupiter (EàW)

Planets you can see in the Morning – Jupiter (W), Saturn (S), Mercury (SE)


Mercury – Mercury becomes a morning star, but very low on the horizon in the SE.  You’ll need binoculars and patience to find it.  Close to the barely visible Moon on the 17th. 

Venus Venus is making its way up the sky each night.  Just look West after sunset and it will be the first “star” you see.  Close to the Moon on the 20th and close to Mars most of the month, closest on the 22nd.

Mars – Look in the West after sunset and look for the visibly red “star” hanging out around Venus. Get out before 7:30pm, since that’s about when Mars sets or is too low to be seen. Close to the Moon on the 20th and close to Venus most of the month, closest on the 22nd.

Jupiter – Jupiter is already up in the east after sunset, so watch Jupiter move from the East to the South to the West by sunrise. If you know your constellations, look to the right of Leo.  Don’t forget the binoculars or telescope for the Galilean Moons and the cloud bands on its surface.  Close to the Moon on the night of the 4th. 

Saturn – Saturn rises in the SE around 3am at the beginning of this month, and rises earlier and higher as the month goes on eventually rising at 1:30am on the 28th. Close to the Moon on the 13th in the morning.


Full Moon – 3rd (Visible all night)

3rdClose Encounter – Moon, Jupiter – Get out after sunset and look East for a Full Moon with Jupiter 5˚ up and to the left. 

Last Quarter Moon – 11th (Visible from midnight into the morning)

13thClose Encounter – Moon, Saturn – Get out after 2:30am and look East for a crescent Moon with Saturn 5˚ up and to the right. By 6:30am, they’ll both probably be invisible to the naked eye, due to dawn’s light.

17th – Moon & Mercury – Look toward the SE (low on the horizon) and you’ll see Mercury only 5˚ to the right of the barely visible Moon.

New Moon – 18th (darkest skies)

20thClose Encounter – Moon, Venus, Mars – Get out around sunset (5:45pm) and wait until you can see Venus or the VERY thin crescent Moon in the East.  Only 2˚to the left of the Moon is Venus, with Mars less than 1˚ above Venus.

21stClose Encounter – Mars, Venus – Though they’ve been hanging out together this month, this is the closest that the two planets will get (from our earthly perspective), being just 0.5˚ apart from each other.  A great binocular pair.

First Quarter Moon – 25th (Visible until midnight)


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”)


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.