Welcome to the February night sky. During this month, unfortunately, there are no bright planets visible in the evening sky.
At around 2am, the gas giant planet Jupiter can be seen rising in the constellation of Libra. Approximately 30 minutes later, the red planet Mars can be seen rising in the southeast just north of the red giant star Antares. Both of these objects are at the moment of similar brightness.
Jupiter in February is much brighter than Mars, but in July the planet Mars will come to opposition and will be at its closest to Earth. At that time, Mars will be as bright as Jupiter is now. In February, Mars is 237 million kilometres from the Earth, but when at opposition on July 27 it will be at only 70 million kilometres distance.
This year NASA has an unmanned mission to Mars that will examine the geology of the Martian surface. This mission is due to launch in May and to land on Mars on November 26.
February this year has no full moon as it has only 28 days, so it could be called a “black moon month”. There are no major meteor showers in February except the Delta Leonids that normally peak on the 26th.
This month we have an opportunity to spot one of the brightest stars in the night-time sky that is not normally seen at these latitudes – that is Canopus. This brilliant white star just pops above the southern horizon for a few minutes around 9pm but, due to its very low altitude, will flash red.
The moon is last quarter on the 7th, new on the 15th, first quarter on the 23th and no full moon in February.
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 February Sky Map click on the pdf link below