The February Skies

“We live in a changing Universe and few things are changing faster than our conception of it.”

Timothy Ferris

Little Mercury is behind the sun during February and cannot be seen due to the solar glare.

Bright Venus appears very low to the west-southwest horizon during the second half of February. Look for it in the evening twilight soon after sunset. You will need a clear, unobstructed horizon to see it. It will slowly rise higher in the sky as the month progresses.

Mars rises around 2:15 a.m. in the south-southeast and is fairly high in the southern sky at dawn. On Feb. 10, Mars passes just 5 degrees north of the reddish supergiant star Antares. Compare the Red Planet with the star and it’s easy to see why the ancient astronomers named the star Antares, which literally means “rival of Mars.” Mars is still too far from Earth to show detail in a telescope but by the time the planet reaches opposition in July, it will appear nearly four times larger.

On the left in this image is the open cluster M35, a young, relatively nearby (2800 light-years) star cluster that can be viewed in small telescopes this month. On the right side is the much older and denser star cluster NGC2158, lying four times farther away in the constellation Gemini. Courtesy CFHT, J. C. Cuillandre

Jupiter rises before 2 a.m. early in February and almost two hours earlier at the end of the month. The giant planet shines in the south-southwest dawn sky. On the 7th, the last quarter moon passes just 4 degrees to Jupiter’s upper right. This would be a great time to view Jupiter’s four bright moons and the belts and zones in its turbulent atmosphere.

Ringed Saturn rises in the east-southeast predawn sky. A very slender crescent moon appears just above the planet on the morning of Feb. 11.

Uranus is only visible in the early evening twilight. Its faint blue-green disk can be viewed in a small telescope halfway up to the zenith in the southwest.

Remote Neptune can be glimpsed in a telescope in the west-southwest sky during the first week in February.

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On clear evenings this month, this bright nebula can be spotted without optical aid. It lies just below the three belt stars in Orion. Binoculars or a small telescope will help to view the enormous gas and dust clouds in this star forming region. Courtesy Bill Schoening/ NOAO/AURA/NSF

Editor’s note: This monthly guide to the stars is from the Marshall Martz Memorial Astronomical Association and The Post-Journal. For further information, contact the M.M.M.A.A. at

Although it’s easy to see craters on the moon using binoculars, you won’t see any of these craters. This image shows the far side of the moon that always faces away from Earth. Over vast periods of time, tidal forces from Earth slowed down the moon’s rotation, in a process called tidal locking. Now, the same side of the moon always faces Earth. Courtesy LRO, NASA, GSFC, Arizona State Univ.

Only 10 million light-years away toward the constellation Camelopardalis lies the large spiral galaxy IC342. It would appear much brighter in our night sky but it is viewed through an intervening veil of stars and gas and dust clouds that lie along the plane of our Milky Way Galaxy. This object is quite easy to locate in a small telescope this month. Courtesy T. Rector (U. Alaska Anchorage), H. Schweiker, WIYN, NOAO, AURA, NSF