Our monthly guide for stargazers
◼ Venus is now shining like a brilliant beacon in the evening sky, wherever you are in the world. Mars, Jupiter and Saturn are all in the morning sky. Try to catch elusive Mercury in the early part of the month. Here’s more of what you can see in the night sky in January 2020.
February’s star chart
Click on the image above for an interactive map of constellations visible in the sky. It can be adjusted for any time and date.
(For a map of the night sky in the southern hemisphere, click here.)
The planets in February 2020
During the first week of February, watch the west-southwestern horizon as the sky darkens to try to spot the innermost planet Mercury. The planet climbs higher from night to night and from mid-northern latitudes it stands about five degrees above the horizon an hour after sunset on the 7th, shining at magnitude -0.9. During the second week, it gets higher still, though fading too, before it begins to sink in towards the Sun again. On the 14th, for example, it will be half as bright, at magnitude 1. You will need an unobstructed horizon, free of cloud and significant haze, to find Mercury at such a low altitude. Read more about Mercury.
Venus is also in the evening sky, and you will have absolutely no trouble spotting it (unless it it cloudy) because it is shining like a brilliant beacon, at magnitude -4, and will be the brightest object in the night sky after the Moon (unless Betelgeuse has gone supernova – unlikely)! Through a small telescope, Venus will resemble a gibbous Moon. See it close to the crescent Moon on February 27, making a fine target for your cameras!
Mars is a morning planet, rising in Ophiuchus around three hours before the Sun at the start of the month, and around two and a half hours before the Sun at month’s end, when it will have moved into neighbouring Sagittarius. Mars is still far fromEarth, and consequently shining dimly, though it brightens a fraction from 1.6 at the start of February to 1.3 at the end of February. The crescent Moon will be close by on February 18. Read our guide to Mars.
The giant planet Jupiter is another morning planet, and rises a little more than an hour before the Sun at the start of February, and about an hour and a half earlier by the end of the month. It is considerably brighter than Mars, and will be shining at magnitude -1.5, in the far southern constellation of Sagittarius. See the crescent Moon close by on the 19th and 20th. Read more about planet Jupiter.
Saturn, the famous ringed planet, has emerged into the morning sky, having passed through conjunction, on the far side of the Sun, in January. It will probably lie too close to the Sun to be readily seen at the start of February, but you may spot it, shining at magnitude 0.9, a little to the east of Jupiter, and also in Sagittarius, by the end of February. Read more about Saturn.
Ice giant Uranus is still visible in the evening sky during February, and is easy to spot with binoculars, in the constellation of Aries. Uranus is currently the northernmost of the planets. Look for it as soon as the sky gets dark, as it will set by around midnight. Uranus, which appears as a tiny disk through an amateur telescope, shines at magnitude 5.8, which is on the very limit of naked-eye viewing, though you would need exceptionally clear, dark skies to glimpse it. Binoculars will bring it easily into view. A telescope may show you a tiny greenish disk. Here’s where you can find Uranus in the night sky. Read more about Uranus.
The outermost planet, Neptune, will be rapidly disappearing from view in the evening sky in February. Look early in the month if you want to spot it, shining at magnitude 8, in the constellation of Aquarius. By the end of February, Neptune will have sunk into the evening twilight as it heads for conjunction, on the far side of the Sun, on March 8th. Here’s where you can find Neptune in the night sky. Read more about Neptune.
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
First Quarter: February 2
Full Moon: February 9
Last Quarter: February 15
New Moon: February 23
Fifty fantastic features – our amazing Moon
Here’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!
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