Astronomy buffs will enjoy this stargazer’s guide to February 2018 and all of the celestial happenings, including planetary pairings, and a partial solar eclipse. You may have noticed that there’s no full Moon listed in this month’s post — normally, you’d see February’s full Snow Moon listed here. To make up for it, we’ll have another double-Moon month in March!
All times Eastern Daylight Time for the Northern Hemisphere:
February 3 — The midpoint of winter. This is the official halfway point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox.
February 7 — Early at around 2:30 a.m. local time, look toward the southeast sky where you’ll see the last quarter (“half”) Moon, about one-quarter of the way up from the horizon and sitting about 4° to its lower right is brilliant Jupiter in the middle of the constellation Libra. Jupiter comes up in the middle of the night – just before 1:30 a.m. at the start of February, and about a quarter to midnight at month’s end. But those wanting to get a good look would do better to go out before morning twilight begins and see the giant planet positioned moderately high in the south. You can glimpse Jupiter’s disk, as well as its four big satellites (first seen by Galileo with his crude telescope in 1610) through steadily held binoculars. Of course a telescope will provide a much better view.
February 7 — The last quarter Moon at 10:54 a.m. will appear as a half Moon due to the direct sunlight, the illuminated part is decreasing progressing towards the new Moon phase.
February 8 — Look to the south before dawn to spot the waxing crescent Moon and Jupiter paired up.
February 9 — Look to the southeast at 4:30 a.m. local time, where you’ll see a wide crescent Moon, about one-quarter of the way up from the horizon. Sitting about 4° to the Moon’s lower right is Mars, which rises more than 4½ hours ahead of the Sun. Mars crosses over from the constellation Scorpius, the Scorpion into Ophiuchus, the Serpent Holder on Feb. 7th, then passes a little more than 5° north of its rival, the ruddy star Antares, on the 10th.
Note: In mid-February, first-magnitude Mars is 143 million miles from the Earth. But it will appear to more than quadruple in size when it makes its closest approach to Earth in nearly 15 years at the end of July!
February 11 — What a pair! Look to the southeast before the Sun comes up to see the small waning crescent Moon very close to the planet Saturn.
February 11 — the Moon at apogee at 9:24 a.m., it’s farthest point from Earth in its orbit. An easy way to remember: Apogee has an “A” = Away, so Perigee = closest.
February 11 —As dawn breaks, look low in the southeast sky where you’ll see the Moon, now a delicately thin crescent, hovering a couple of degrees directly above the planet Saturn. The ringed planet rises in the southeast before dawn, about 40 minutes before first light early in the month, and 1¾ hours before dawn breaks by month’s end. Don’t confuse Saturn with either Mars or the bright star Antares, both nearly 30° to its west (upper right) in the morning twilight.
February 15 — New Moon at 4:05 p.m. At this stage, the Moon is not illuminated by direct sunlight and is completely invisible to the naked eye.
February 15 —At the time of the New Moon, 4:05 p.m., there is a partial solar eclipse that comes with it. But unless you plan on doing some extensive traveling, don’t count on viewing it. This eclipse most definitely favors Antarctica, as most of that icy continent will be swept by the Moon’s penumbral shadow. Parts of Chile, Argentina, Paraguay, and the southernmost tip of Brazil will also see the Moon partially occult the Sun’s disk.
February 17 – Mercury cannot be seen during most of February because it reaches superior conjunction (beyond the sun) on Saturday, February 17th. But as it approaches perihelion – its closest point to the Sun – on March 10th, the planet moves rapidly into the evening sky.
February 22 —Tonight, the waxing gibbous Moon will be in the constellation Taurus the Bull. The “eye” of the Bull, the star Aldebaran, will be to the right of the Moon. Orion will be right below them.
February 23 — First Quarter Moon, 3:09 a.m. In this phase, the Moon looks like a half-Moon in the sky. One-half of the Moon is illuminated by direct sunlight while the illuminated part is increasing, on its way to full.
February 24 — Look for the large waxing gibbous Moon inside the “Winter Circle,” a very large asterism that we sometimes call the Winter Hexagon.
February 26 — the waxing gibbous moon will be located in front of Gemini, the Twins, Pollux and Castor.
February 27 — the Moon is at perigee, 9:47 a.m., its closest point to Earth in its orbit.
February 28—Setting 45 minutes after the Sun, and visible very low above the western horizon, Mercury will shine at magnitude -1.4, as bright as the brightest star in the sky, Sirius. While you’re looking for Mercury you no doubt will also run across our newest “evening star,” Venus. This brightest of planets returns to evening visibility after spending most of the past year in the morning sky. Most of us won’t get to glimpse it before late February however, and even then it will be low in bright twilight. Look for Venus 20 to 30 minutes after sunset just a few degrees above the western horizon. Binoculars will help you find it, especially if the sky is a bit hazy. Toward the end of the month, Mercury will be pushing up into view below and to the right of Venus.
With contributions from Astronomer Joe Rao