The weather certainly has been adverse for looking at the sky! February can be better, but you never know about February -- it could be miserable!
If the sky is clear in February, just before dawn is the time to see the planets. Jupiter and Venus dominate, with Venus really being bright on a clear morning.
The morning planets do some interesting dances together in February. On Feb. 1, Antares, a bright first magnitude star, Jupiter, Venus, the waning crescent Moon and Saturn form a beautiful 35-degree arc across the southeast part of the dawn sky.
Also, on the evening of the 10th, look about halfway up the sky to the south-southwest to see the waxing crescent Moon, 6 degrees to the lower left of Mars. This will take a clear horizon to the southwest because these objects will be relatively low in the sky.
On the 12th, tiny planet Mercury reappears in the west-southwest after sunset. It will be star-like in appearance-- binoculars will help to find it. With a medium-sized telescope, it will appear as a rather small disk, nearly fully lit.
Between the 17th and 19th, get up about 6 a.m., look toward the southeast, and you will see brilliant Venus glide very near Saturn with only about 1 degree separating them.
The constellation that will catch most people's eye in the evening is Orion the Hunter. He will stand up straight in the February sky. Betelgeuse will form the point of his left shoulder and Rigel will form his right foot, seen from our point of view. These are two of the brightest stars in the night sky, one red: Betelgeuse and one blue-white: Rigel.
However, the real wonder is Orion's sword. Right where the sword is lies one of the most photographed objects and one of the most beautiful wonders in all the sky -- M42 or The Great Nebula in Orion. I have photographed it many times, but in December, I tried again. I include the result in this column. This enormous gaseous nebula is about 1,300 light years away and is one of the richest star-forming regions we humans can see. Look at it with binoculars or, better yet, find an amateur astronomer who will let you look at it with their telescope. I have spent a whole evening looking at it alone and I never got tired. Even amateur photographs are beautiful and reveal much more than can be seen with the naked eye. The Hubble Space Telescope has been able to resolve actual stars being formed among the colorful gases of the nebula which, over very long periods of time, form new stars and, perhaps, even new planets.
February can have some of the best skies for winter viewing. Always bundle up and, if you are holding something metal, such as binoculars, wear gloves!
Clear skies in February!
-- Dr. David Cater is a former faculty member of JBU. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions expressed are those of the author.Community on 01/31/2019
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