Night sky in February 2017 – northern hemisphere

Highlights: Venus brilliant in February’s evening sky. Jupiter dominates morning sky.

skimp thumbnailWelcome to Skymania’s guide to the night sky in February, 2017. You will find a map of the whole visible sky, which can be adjusted for any time and date, plus information on the position of the planets, phases of the Moon, and notable astronomical events to watch out for. (To open the sky map in a separate window, click here.)

For the night sky in the southern hemisphere, click here.

The sky in February 2017

Summary: Venus shines brilliantly in the evening sky, with Mars nearby. Jupiter dominates the morning sky, with Saturn rising later in the night. Asteroid Vesta is still bright enough to spot easily with binoculars. (If you don’t own an optical aid, we’ve advice on choosing binoculars or a telescope here). Meteor fans should watch out for the Quadrantid meteor shower.

The planets

mercurythmMercury is in the pre-dawn sky and sinking back towards the Sun as February opens, and will not be easy to spot from northern latitudes.

venusthmVenus is still shining brilliantly in the evening sky and is impossible to miss, at magnitude -4.8. That is bright enough to spot with the unaided eye in broad daylight if you know just where to look. The brightness is because the planet is swinging in between Earth and the Sun. Through a small telescope, it will be seen as a crescent. Don’t expect to see any surface details though as the planet is permanently shrouded in cloud. Venus is close to Mars at the start of the month.

marsthmMars is still hanging on in the evening sky, shining like a bright star, but is totally put in the shade by the overpowering brilliance of Venus. The planet is receding on the far side of the Sun now and its brightness fades from magnitude 1.1 to 1.3 during the month.

jupiterthmJupiter , the biggest planet in the Solar System, is very well placed for is a brilliant planet in the morning sky at the start of the month, rising half an hour or so after midnight. Find it in the constellation of Virgo, not far from its brightest star, Spica. By month’s end, it rises before 11pm. The planet brightens slightly from -2.1 to -2.3, making it the brightest object in the sky after Venus. A small telescope will reveal the planet’s belts and bands as well as the four main moons, known as the Galilean satellites, Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto.

saturnthmSaturn lies in the morning sky this month, rising before 5am at the start of February but two hours earlier by month’s end. To the naked eye, it resembles a bright yellow star at magnitude 0.5 A small telescope will show its rings are wide open, making it an attractive sight.

uranus_thmUranus is visible in the evening sky, but sets soon after midnight in mid-month. The planet is just visible to the unaided eye if you have an exceptionally clear, dark sky, but binoculars make it much easier to spot. You can find it in shining at magnitude 6.0 in the constellation of Pisces.

neptune_thmNeptune, the last of the eight worlds recognised as planets in our Solar System, is too close to the Sun to be easily seen this month.

Two eclipses

On February 11, a penumbral eclipse of the Moon occurs. This eclipse, where the Moon only passes through the lighter outer shadow of the Earth, called the penumbra, is entirely visible from Europe and Africa. From there, the Full Moon will appear to be slightly dimmer than usual. An annular solar eclipse, on February 26, where the Moon is not quite big enough to cover the Sun, is not visible from the northern hemisphere.

Two comets

Comet 45P/Honda–Mrkos–Pajdušáková will become bright enough to see with binoculars at around magnitude 7.5 during the first couple of weeks in February. It passes close to Earth as it moves away from the Sun, and rapidly races across the sky through the constellations of Aquila, Hercules, Corona Borealis and Bootes in a matter of days. Look for it becoming high in the sky in the hours before dawn with the aid of our chart.
A second comet, C2015 V2 Johnson, will become visible in small telescopes in Hercules towards the end of the month, at around magnitude 9.5 as it heads to a closest approach to the Sun in June.

The Moon

The Moon always makes a great target for a small telescope, which come into view as its phases change. We’ve a guide to where to find 50 of the best lunar features, plus a checklist to download so you can tick them off as you spot them! Don’t have a telescope? Here’s our guide to choosing one.

Phases of the Moon

Phase First Quarter: Feb 4
Full Moon: Feb 11
Last Quarter: Feb 18
New Moon: Feb 26
Image courtesy U.S.N.O.
Fifty fantastic features – our amazing Moon

moon_in_relief_thmHere’s our guide to observing some of the finest sights on the Moon with small telescopes. Click here for pages of charts that will help you find interesting features to seek out yourself, including craters, lava flows, mountain ranges and deep chasms!