Welcome to the February night sky. This is the month when the late winter evenings are dominated by the constellation of Orion the Hunter, visible high up in the south.
To the right of Orion is the constellation of Taurus the Bull with its brightest star Aldebaran, a red giant marking the eye of the Bull. Also in Taurus is the small but bright star cluster of the Pleiades or Seven Sisters. The three stars that form the belt of Orion are on the equator of the sky and, therefore, are visible all over the world at this time of the year.
The brilliant planet Venus can still be seen as an evening star during this month, but it is fading somewhat as it moves closer to the Sun and, through a small telescope, it will show a crescent shape as its orbit carries it on a path that moves it between the Earth and the Sun later on in the year.
On the first day of the month, the crescent Moon is close to Venus and also, in the same small region of the early evening sky, the red planet Mars can be seen shining dimly in comparison to the brilliance of Venus.
The gas giant planet Jupiter continues to be a morning object in the constellation of Virgo, and on the 15th the last quarter Moon is close to it.
February 26 sees the peak of the Delta Leonid meteor shower that is active during the last two weeks of the month, but this is the only notable shower that February has, although at least the last week of February has no Moon, so the sky should be darker to aid in spotting any faint meteors.
The 26th is also the date of an annular eclipse of the Sun, but it’s not visible from the northern hemisphere as the track of annularity passes across the South Atlantic Ocean.
The other important solar eclipse of 2017 is a spectacular total eclipse of the Sun on August 21 when the track of totality passes right through the centre of North America.
No doubt some will say that this has some sort of astrological significance occurring as it does during a period of profound change politically and socially.
The NASA Neowise infrared space telescope project was launched in December 2009, and was shut down in February 2011 due to budget cuts, but in 2013 it was reactivated and recently discovered a large dark comet-like object approaching the Earth.
There is no danger of a collision this time, but it shows that money spent on space exploration is money well spent as it could save mankind from some nasty surprises in the future.
The Moon is first quarter on the 4th, full on the 11th, last quarter on the 18th and new on February 26.
By Clive Jackson
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Clive Jackson is the Director of the Camera Obscura (next to the Castle in Tavira), specialising in education and public outreach.
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To see the December Sky Map click on the pdf link below