The February night sky

What to look out for in the coming month, including a brilliant view of Venus and a penumbral lunar eclipse

February night sky chart
Graphic: Finbarr Sheehy

February brings our best evening sky of 2017. Not only is Orion still resplendent but Venus blazes at its brightest and highest as an evening star.

Our star maps, currently valid for the late evening, plot Sirius low on the meridian, below and to the left of Orion. Taurus lies on the other side of Orion while Gemini, high in the S, has Castor above-right of Pollux.

Venus, near Mars, sets before our map times at present, but their positions are plotted from mid-month. At sunset, though, Venus is more than 30° high in the SW, being highest on the 11th and most brilliant (mag –4.6) on the 17th. Viewed telescopically, or even through steadily-held binoculars, it swells from 31 to 47 arcsec as its crescent phase shrinks from 40% to 17% and its distance drops from 81m to 53m km.

Mars, much fainter at mag 1.1 to 1.3, lies above-left of Venus, being closest (5.4°) on the 2nd. Their separation increases to 12° by the 28th when the impressively earth-lit Moon lies below them in the W at nightfall. Use Mars to spot Uranus which lies 0.6° left of Mars on the 26th and is visible through binoculars at mag 5.9.

The Moon lies above-left of Mars and Venus on the 1st and hides several stars in the Hyades cluster in Taurus on the 5th before slipping just below Aldebaran at about 22:20 GMT.

The full Moon on the night of the 10th lies to the W of Regulus in Leo and transits the S part of the Earth’s penumbral shadow. The eclipse lasts from 22:34 until 02:53 with an obvious shading over the N part of the disc around mid-eclipse at 00:33 on the 11th. An annular solar eclipse on the 26th is visible across the S Atlantic from Chile to southern Africa.

Jupiter, conspicuous at mag –2.1 to –2.3, lies almost 4° N of Spica in Virgo, the pair rising in the ESE less than two hours after our map times and crossing the meridian five hours later. Catch them below-left of the Moon on the 15th when the cloud-swathed planet appears 41 arcsec wide.

Saturn, mag 0.6 to 0.5 and crossing the border between Ophiuchus and Sagittarius, rises in the SE three hours before the Sun and stands below-right of the Moon before dawn on the 21st.

February diary

1st 01h Moon 2.3° S of Mars

2nd 12h Venus closest to Mars (5.4°)

4th 04h First quarter

5th 22h Moon 0.2° N of Aldebaran

6th 19h Jupiter stationary

11th 01h Full moon and penumbral lunar eclipse

15th 15h Moon 2.7° N of Jupiter

18th 20h Last quarter

20th 23h Moon 4° N of Saturn

23rd 16h Jupiter 4° N of Spica

26th 15h New moon and annular solar eclipse

27th 08h Mars 0.6° N of Uranus


Alan Pickup

The GuardianTramp

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