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February’s Night Sky Guide (February 2022)

February’s night sky will feature a Full Snow Moon, a great view of Venus, and a few more planetary line ups that you may want to catch. Here’s a calendar listing of what’s going on in February’s night sky.

All times listed are Eastern Standard Time.

February 1- New Moon

The New Moon arrives just in time for the start of February (12:46 am) if you live in the eastern time zone, otherwise it arrives on the 31st of January. However this phase isn’t something to look for because in this phase, the Moon isn’t visible from our prospective. During the New Moon, the portion of the Moon that gets sun light is the back side of the Moon, the half we cannot see. It’s called the New Moon because it’s the beginning of the lunar cycle.

February 2 – Jupiter At Sunset and a Waxing Crescent Moon

Jupiter starts the month a good 15° above the west-southwest horizon a half hour after sunset. As the month continues, Jupiter appears a little lower each night around twilight. By the 19,th this large planet will have disappeared into the sunset. It will be in conjunction with the Sun on March 5th.

This Groundhog Day evening, you many see your shadow, but you might see the slender sliver of a waxing crescent will hover about 4½° to the lower left of this big planet. 

February 3 – Official Midpoint of Winter

This isn’t something that’s happening in the night sky, but we found it important enough to list it here. At 10:45 p.m. EST, we arrive at the midpoint of winter, halfway between December solstice and the March equinox.  Learn more about the midpoint of winter.

February 4 – Saturn Hides Behind The Sun’s Glare

Saturn will be invisible all month long due to it going into conjunction (crossing between us and the Sun) today.  This means it will be behind the Sun’s glare all month. You’ll have to wait to search the sky for this planet’s famous rings.

February 8 – First Quarter/Half Moon

AT 1:11 p.m. EST today, the Moon will enter its First Quarter or Half Moon phase.

The First Quarter Moon is also called a Half Moon because the Sun’s rays illuminate exactly 50% of the Moon’s surface. This phase happens when the Moon is at a 90 degree angle with respect to the Earth and Sun. So we see exactly the half of the Moon that gets hit by the Sun’s light. We explain more here.

February 12 – Look for Venus In The Early Morning

Venus, which is known as one of the brightest objects in the sky, will be at its brightest during February, shinning at a magnitude -4.9 for much of the month. It’s not very high in the sky, but it will be bright. To catch a glimpse of Venus, wake up early as the best time to view is about 2 to 2 1/2 hours before sunrise for skywatchers at mid-northern latitudes.

Venus’s elongation from the Sun continues to grow. At the end of the month,  observers at 40° north latitude (Philadelphia) still see it only 18° high in the southeast sky, about  30 minutes before sunrise.

During February, Venus’s crescent thickens from 16% to 38% sunlit. It appears about one-third smaller at the end of the month as compared to the beginning as it continues to pull away from the Earth. Venus displays its greatest illuminated extent (number of square arc seconds lit) on the morning of February 12.     

February 16 – Full Snow Moon

February is a month known for traditionally for snow. Makes sense that the Native American tribes of the north and east called this Moon the Full Snow Moon.. The Moon will enter its full phase at 11:56 a.m.

February 23 – Last Quarter Moon

At 5:32 p.m. (EST) the Moon will enter its Last Quarter phase. During this phase, from Earth, we see the Moon half-lit, but we are really seeing only one-quarter of the Moon, because the other lit part of it is on the side we can’t see. A last quarter Moon looks like a pie half eaten. It is also referred to as the third quarter Moon.

February 27- Mars In The Morning

Mars rises a little more than 1½ hours before the sun in February.  As dawn brightens, you’ll have to look carefully very low in the east-southeast to see the Red Planet’s +1.3 magnitude speck of light.  If you’re having trouble, try binoculars. 

This morning, about 45 minutes before sunrise, look low to the southeast horizon for a narrow, waning crescent moon and hovering about 4½° almost directly above it will be Mars.  And about 5° above Mars you should see Venus. 

Footnote:
We sometimes use angular degrees to define the separation between two objects, such as (for example) a bright planet and the Moon. Here’s a tip: the width of your clenched fist, held at arm’s length, measures roughly 10°. 

When we speak of magnitude, we are referring to the brightness of an object, the lower the figure of magnitude, the brighter the object. The brightest stars are zero and first magnitude.  Under a dark, clear sky, the faintest objects that you can see with just your eyes are fifth or sixth magnitude.  Objects with negative magnitudes are the brightest. Sirius, the brightest star, is -1.4. Venus can get as bright as -4.8. A Full Moon is -12.7 and the sun is a blindingly bright -26.7!

By Farmers’ Almanac Astronomer Joe Rao. This calendar is adapted from “Skylog,” a regular feature appearing in Natural History magazine written by Mr. Rao since 1995. 

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