Welcome to the February night sky. This month we only have one notable meteor shower and that is the Delta-Leonids, which is visible during the third week of February and peaking on the 26th. But this year this shower is not expected to be strong.
To make up for this, we have a possible naked-eye comet called C/2022 E3 ZTF. On February 1, this object will be at its closest to Earth and theoretically at its brightest. This comet has a highly elongated orbit, and it was last seen in the inner solar system about 50,000 years ago.
The comet is unfortunately rather faint now, but it may get brighter if the gravity of the Sun causes it to fragment, but this is not predictable.
In July 2020, we had comet NEOWISE and that was much more spectacular.
The first week of February is the best time to locate comet ZTF as it will be close to the Pole Star and about 10 degrees away towards the northeast. It would be best to use a good pair of binoculars rather than a small telescope as a large field of view will aid in its location.
If you can find this comet, it will appear as a small grey smudge of light and it is unlikely that any tail will be observable visually. With long exposure images using a digital camera and a motorised tracking mount with imaging processing software, the ion tail and the larger dust tail would be visible.
The red planet Mars is still in the constellation of Taurus, but it is only one third as bright as it was at opposition six weeks ago.
Venus is low in the west at sunset and, on the 22nd, the thin crescent Moon will be close to Venus and Jupiter in the early evening Sky.
The gas giant planet Jupiter still shines brightly in the constellation of Pisces before moving on into Aries in the month of May. With a small telescope magnifying 20 times or more, the four Galilean Moons are easily visible.
Venus and Jupiter will be moving closer together this month and, by March 1, they will be at their closest.
The ringed planet Saturn has now dipped below the western horizon and is too close to the Sun to be visible in February.
To see Saturn, you will have to wait for it to emerge from the other side of the Sun when it becomes a morning object later in the year.
The same thing happens with all solar system objects as their visibility reduces when they set in the west and then they become visible a couple of months later as they emerge as morning objects just before sunrise in the East.
The Moon is full on the 5th, last quarter on the 13th, new on the 20th, and first quarter on the 27th of February.
By Clive Jackson
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Clive Jackson is the director of the Camera Obscura – Tavira EYE attraction, located near the Castle of Tavira. Specialising in education and public outreach.
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To see the February Sky Map click on the pdf link below