The Sky This Month – February 2017

The full Moon is partially in the Earth's shadow during a penumbral lunar eclipse. Credit: Radoslaw Ziomber/Wikipedia Commons.

The full Moon is partially in the Earth’s shadow during a penumbral lunar eclipse. Credit: Radoslaw Ziomber/Wikipedia Commons.

2 February 2017. Look for the bright white star Spica in the constellation Virgo and the much brighter planet Jupiter in the southeastern sky well before sunrise. The pair lie within about two finger widths of each other for most of the month.

2-3 Feb. The dwarf planet Ceres lies about 1º south of the waxing crescent Moon. Some observers across southern Europe, North Africa, Central America, and northern South America will see the little world pass behind the Moon at roughly 02:00 UT on Feb. 3. Ceres shines at about 9th magnitude, easy to see in binoculars or a telescope, although the glare of the Moon makes it a little harder to spot. Ceres is the largest of the dwarf planets in the asteroid belt. It’s a nearly round world with a diameter of 950km. That makes it the 33rd largest object in the solar system!

moon-ceres

The dwarf planet Ceres lies 1 degree south of the Moon on the night and early morning of February 2-3, 2017. In this image, the two bright stars Alrischa and Torucularis Septentrionalis are about 7.5 degrees apart.

4 Feb. First Quarter Moon, 04:19 UT

10-11 Feb. Observers in eastern North America and most of Central and South America can see a deep penumbral lunar eclipse. During this event, the full Moon passes into the Earth’s penumbra and appears partially darkened. The eclipse runs from 22:32 UT on Feb. 1o until 2:55 UT on Feb. 11. The midpoint of the eclipse happens at 00:44 UT.

11 Feb. Full Moon, 00:33 UT

11 Feb. The bright star Regulus in the constellation Leo lies less than one degree from the waning gibbous Moon. Observers in Australia and New Zealand can see the star pass behind the Moon at about 13:00-14:00 UT. More detailed timing of the event is found here.

15 Feb. The waning gibbous Moon joins Jupiter and Spica in the early morning sky.

Jupiter, the star Spica, and the waning gibbous Moon (all right of center) lie in a small group on the morning of February 15, 2017 in the southern sky a before sunrise. Saturn rises in in the southeast, well east of the bright star Antares.

Jupiter, the star Spica, and the waning gibbous Moon (all right of center) lie in a small group on the morning of February 15, 2017 in the southern sky a before sunrise. Saturn rises in in the southeast, well east of the bright star Antares.

15 Feb. Comet 45/P Honda–Mrkos–Pajdušáková returns to the sky in the early morning hours. This little periodic comet will grow bright enough to see in binoculars for the next month or so. It’s visible to northern and southern observers in mid-to-late February, then it heads northward and gets tougher to see from deep-southern latitudes. You can learn more about this comet and where to see it at this link.

17 Feb. Venus dominates the western sky after sunset. In a telescope, you’ll see only 27% of the planet illuminated, but the planet is now so close to Earth that it appears quite large. In fact, today we see the maximum illuminated surface area of the planet, also known as the “greatest illuminated extent”. The planet is also nearly as bright as it ever gets and shines at an imposing magnitude -4.6, bright enough to cast a shadow in a dark location.

18 Feb. Last Quarter Moon, 19:33 UT

20 Feb. Saturn continues to rise a little earlier each day on its way to opposition in June. The planet is about 4° south of the waning crescent Moon today. It shines at magnitude +0.5 with a pale yellow color. The red-orange star Antares is about 20º to the west of Saturn.

26 Feb. Observers in a narrow band of southern Chile and Argentina can see an annular solar eclipse in which the Moon covers all but a thin ring of the Sun’s bright disk. Much of South America and western Africa can see a partial eclipse during this event, which occurs from 13:30UT to 16:30UT, approximately. You can get more detailed information about this eclipse at this link.

26 Feb. New Moon, 14:58 UT

Mars and uranus lie within 0.6 degrees of each other on Feb. 26-27, 2017. Much brighter Venus and the slender crescent Moon are also visible.

Mars and uranus lie within 0.6 degrees of each other on Feb. 26-27, 2017. Much brighter Venus and the slender crescent Moon are also visible.

26-27 Feb. Mars lies within 0.6º of Uranus in the western sky after sunset. The pair will fit in the same low-to-moderate power field of view of a telescope. Uranus will appear today as the brightest object close to Mars… no star near Mars shines as brightly. Orange Mars shines at magnitude +1.5 at the end of February and appears too small, just 5″ across, to reveal any detail in a telescope. Pale blue-green Uranus shines at magnitude +5.7, plenty bright enough to appear in binoculars. It’s just 2.3″ across.

 

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