Here’s what to look for in the skies in February:
At dusk Aries, Ram, chases the Winged Horse (Great Square of Pegasus) onto the western horizon. The delicate Seven Sisters (Pleiades star cluster) lead Taurus, Bull, westward.
A red giant star Aldebaran (Bull’s red eye) winks from the V-shape Hyades cluster (Bull’s face) in Taurus. Cetus, Whale, dives onto the southwestern horizon. Outer planet blue-green Uranus hovers above the western horizon in Pisces, Fish, until nightfall.
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Mighty Orion, Hunter, strides across the south in pursuit of the Bull. The left shoulder star (above his belt) is Betelgeuse, a red supergiant star. The Great Orion Nebula, a huge gas cloud 173 trillion miles in diameter that produces new stars, is located in his sword below the belt.
Orion’s knees are bright Rigel and dim Saiph below his sword. Brilliant blue Sirius, a nearby star, sparkles in Orion’s Big Dog trotting on its hind legs in the southeast. The string of Pups follow the Big Dog. Spectacular views in ’scopes and binoculars!
Procyon, Little Dog in the east, follows Orion. The Gemini Twins, Castor and Pollux, climb higher in the northeast. The Beehive star cluster in Cancer, Crab, shimmers below the Twins. Capella guides Auriga,Charioteer, across the north.
The Royal Family Queen Cassiopeia, King Cepheus, daughter Andromeda and Perseus, Hero, all drift into the northwest. Northbound Comet Catalina fades as it cruises past the Queen.
Leo, Lion, crawls above the eastern horizon followed by bright Jupiter before 10 p.m. The Big Dipper appears (bowl first) in the northeast. Its bowl always faces Polaris, North Star, as it pivots around Polaris all night. The tip of the Little Dipper’s handle is Polaris. Bright Arcturus sparkles in the northeast beyond the Big Dipper’s handle. Spica, in Virgo, appears in the southeast.
Feb. 9: Before nightfall a very young crescent moon lies 2 degrees right of Neptune descending onto the west-southwestern horizon.
Feb. 10-12: Aim binoculars to the crescent moon in the west. The dark lunar surface is Earthshine: light from Earth reflecting off the moon. As the lunar crescent widens each night, more craters, mountains become visible in binoculars.
Feb. 15: The First Quarter Moon floats near ruddy Aldebaran in the Hyades cluster in Taurus.
Feb. 19: Tonight the moon drifts near the Beehive cluster below the Gemini Twins.
Feb. 21: The bright moon leads the Lion toward the Zenith.
Feb. 22: The Wolf Moon is full at 1:20 p.m. and rises in the east at dusk.
Feb. 27: The Zodiacal Light may be visible. After nightfall, a pyramid of diffused sunlight extends up from the western horizon reflecting zillions of dust particles in deep space.
Approximate rising times for five planets: Jupiter in the west; Mars brightens in Libra 1 a.m. south-southeast; Saturn 3:30 a.m. above Scorpius in the southeast; brilliant Venus, Morning Star, 5:15 a.m. left of the Sagittarian Teapot low in the southeast; Mercury appears lower left of Venus by 5:45 a.m.
February begins with a rare parade of five planets visible from east to west of Zenith. Westbound bright Jupiter, surrounded by its four closest satellite moons, leads the planetary parade. Mars, Saturn, Venus and Mercury will be visible throughout the month.
Jupiter follows Leo, Lion, into the west. Mars, in Libra, follows Spica in Virgo, Springmaiden, across the south. Corvus, Crow, flies into the southwest. Silver Saturn glows above huge Scorpius in the southeast. Bright Antares (red heart) sparkles in the Scorpion’s torso.
Brilliant Venus glows low in the southeast; Mercury lies lower left of Venus until it descends into the sun’s glare the last week of the month. At dawn the Sagittarian Teapot (center of our Milky Way Galaxy) appears on the southeastern horizon.
Vega brings the vast Summer Triangle onto the northeastern horizon. The Summer Milky Way lies on the eastern horizon. The Big Dipper hangs in the north. Bright Arcturus sparkles overhead.
Feb. 1: The waning moon floats 3 degrees above Mars in Libra in the south.
Feb. 3: The old moon lies 4 degrees above Saturn in the southeast.
Feb. 6: Aim binoculars and cameras to the celestial triangle in the southeast: Venus, Mercury and the moon are each 5 degrees apart.
Feb. 8: New Moon occurs 9:39 a.m.
Feb. 13: Mercury and Venus closest by 4 degrees low in the southeast.
Feb. 29: Last Quarter Moon and Mars lead Scorpius into the south. Brilliant Venus visible near the southeastern horizon.
Feb. 19: Southern Cross Astronomical Society and Florida International University host a free Astronomy Update at 8 p.m. with a dueling guitars performance, prizes and refreshments. At FIU Physics lecture hall CP-145, Main campus. Star party on the Observatory roof. Park in the campus garage, west side of Southwest 109th Avenue and Eighth Street. Follow the SCAS signs. 305-661-1375.
Feb. 24: Star party at 7 p.m. at Villa Vizcaya, 3251 S. Miami Ave., after the moonlight garden tour. 305-661-1375.
Feb. 26: Free Family Night, 7-10 p.m. at Fruit & Spice Park, 24801 SW 187th Ave., Homestead. 305-247-5727.