Night sky guide for February 2018 - Partial Solar Eclipse

Night sky guide for February 2018 - Partial Solar Eclipse

After super blue blood Moon on January 31, we are heading toward our next celestial event on February 15 when a partial solar eclipse will be visible in parts of Chile, Argentina, and Antarctica. 

The best time of this month to observe faint objects such as galaxies and star clusters because there is no moonlight to interfere  - New Moon - is also on February 15. The phase will be reached at 21:07 UTC.

There will be no full moon this month which is a good news for all those that had a sleepless night on the 31st. The next Full Moon is on March 2 and then on March 31.

With the next major meteor shower on April 21 and 22 and northern hemisphere's spring fireball season still 2 months away, there is plenty of time to make preparations.

  • February 7 - NGC 2808 well placed for observation. Globular cluster NGC 2808 in Carina will be well placed for observation across much of the world. It will reach its highest point in the sky at around midnight local time. At a declination of -64°52', it is easiest to see from the southern hemisphere but cannot be seen from latitudes much north of 5°N. At magnitude 6.3, NGC2808 is quite faint, and certainly not visible to the naked eye, but can be viewed through a pair of binoculars or small telescope.

  • February 7 - Moon at last quarter - 15:55 UTC. The Moon will be prominent in the dawn sky, rising at around midnight. Over coming days, the Moon will rise later each day, so that it is visible for less time before sunrise and it less far above the eastern horizon before dawn. By the time it reaches New Moon, it will rise at around dawn and set at around dusk, making it visible only during the daytime.

  • February 7 - Conjunction of the Moon and Jupiter - 19:47 UTC. The Moon, 21 days old, and Jupiter will share the same right ascension, with the Moon passing 4°17' to the north of Jupiter. At around the same time, the two objects will also make a close approach, technically called an appulse. The Moon will be at mag -11.8, and Jupiter at mag -2.0, both in the constellation Libra. The pair will be too widely separated to fit within the field of view of a telescope but will be visible to the naked eye or through a pair of binoculars.

  • February 7 - Close approach of the Moon and Jupiter - 22:04 UTC. The Moon and Jupiter will make a close approach, passing within 4°07' of each other. The Moon will be at mag -11.8, and Jupiter at mag -2.0, both in the constellation Libra. The pair will be too widely separated to fit within the field of view of a telescope, but will be visible to the naked eye or through a pair of binoculars. At around the same time, the two objects will also share the same right ascension – called a conjunction.

  • February 9 - Conjunction of the Moon and Mars - 05:12 UTC. The Moon and Mars will share the same right ascension, with the Moon passing 4°23' to the north of Mars. At around the same time, the two objects will also make a close approach. The Moon will be at mag -11.5, and Mars at mag 1.1, both in the constellation Ophiuchus. The pair will be too widely separated to fit within the field of view of a telescope but will be visible to the naked eye or through a pair of binoculars.

  • February 9 - Close approach of the Moon and Mars - 07:02 UTC. The Moon, 23 days old, and Mars will make a close approach, passing within 4°18' of each other. The Moon will be at mag -11.4, and Mars at mag 1.1, both in the constellation Ophiuchus. The pair will be too widely separated to fit within the field of view of a telescope but will be visible to the naked eye or through a pair of binoculars. At around the same time, the two objects will also share the same right ascension - conjunction.

  • February 11 - Conjunction of the Moon and Saturn - 14:31 UTC. The Moon and Saturn will share the same right ascension, with the Moon passing 2°27' to the north of Saturn. At around the same time, the two objects will also make a close approach - appulse. The Moon will be at mag -10.6, and Saturn at mag 0.4, both in the constellation Sagittarius. The pair will be too widely separated to fit within the field of view of a telescope but will be visible to the naked eye or through a pair of binoculars.

  • February 11 - Close approach of the Moon and Saturn - 14:40 UTC. The Moon and Saturn will make a close approach, passing within 2°27' of each other. The Moon will be at mag -10.6, and Saturn at mag 0.4, both in the constellation Sagittarius. The pair will be too widely separated to fit within the field of view of a telescope but will be visible to the naked eye or through a pair of binoculars. At around the same time, the two objects will also share the same right ascension - conjunction.

  • February 15 - New Moon - 21:07 UTC. The Moon will pass close to the Sun and become lost in the Sun's glare for a few days. This is the best time of the month to observe faint objects such as galaxies and star clusters because there is no moonlight to interfere.

  • February 15 - Partial Solar Eclipse - 20:52 UTC. The Moon will pass in front of the Sun on February 15, creating a solar eclipse. However, the alignment will not be very exact, so the Moon will only partially cover the Sun, and nowhere on Earth will see a total eclipse.  A partial solar eclipse occurs when the Moon covers only a part of the Sun, sometimes resembling a bite taken out of a cookie. A partial solar eclipse can only be safely observed with a special solar filter or by looking at the Sun's reflection. This partial eclipse will only be visible in parts of Chile, Argentina, and Antarctica. 

Partial solar eclipse February 15, 2018

  • February 17 - Mercury at superior solar conjunction - 12:12 UTC. Mercury will pass very close to the Sun in the sky as its orbit carries it around the far side of the solar system from the Earth. This occurs once in every synodic cycle of the planet (116 days), and marks the end of Mercury's apparition in the morning sky and its transition to become an evening object over the next few weeks. At closest approach, Mercury will appear at a separation of only 1°58' from the Sun, making it totally unobservable for several weeks while it is lost in the Sun's glare. Mercury will also pass apogee – the time when it is most distant from the Earth – at around the same time, since it will lie exactly opposite to the Earth in the Solar System. It will move to a distance of 1.38 AU from the Earth, making it appear small and very distant. If it could be observed, it would measure 4.9 arcsec in diameter, whilst appearing completely illuminated.
  • February 18 - Mercury at greatest brightness - 17:35 UTC. In the southern hemisphere, Mercury will be well placed for observation in the evening sky, shining brightly at mag -1.7. Mercury's orbit lies closer to the Sun than the Earth's, meaning that it always appears close to the Sun and is very difficult to observe most of the time. It is observable only for a few days each time it reaches greatest separation from the Sun – moments referred to as greatest elongation.

  • February 19 - M81 well placed for observation. Bode's galaxy (M81, NGC 3031) in Ursa Major will be well placed for observation. It will reach its highest point in the sky at around midnight local time. At a declination of +69°04', it is easiest to see from the northern hemisphere but cannot be seen from latitudes much south of 0°S. At magnitude 6.9, M81 is quite faint, and certainly not visible to the naked eye, but can be viewed through a pair of binoculars or small telescope.

  • February 20 - NGC 3114 well placed for observation. Across much of the world, the open star cluster NGC 3114 in Carina will be well placed for observation. It will reach its highest point in the sky at around midnight local time. At a declination of -60°07', it is easiest to see from the southern hemisphere but cannot be seen from latitudes much north of 9°N. At magnitude 4.2, NGC3114 is tricky to make out with the naked eye except from a dark site but is visible through a pair of binoculars or a small telescope.

  • February 20 - C/2015 O1 (PANSTARRS) at perihelion. Comet C/2015 O1 (PANSTARRS) will make its closest approach to the Sun, at a distance of 3.73 AU.

  • February 21 - C/2017 T1 (Heinze) at perihelion. Comet C/2017 T1 (Heinze) will make its closest approach to the Sun, at a distance of 0.58 AU.

  • February 23 - Moon at First Quarter - 08:10 UTC. The Moon will be prominent in the evening sky, setting around midnight. At this time in its monthly cycle of phases, it appears almost exactly half illuminated.

  • February 27 - IC2581 is well placed. Across much of the world the open star cluster IC 2581 in Carina will be well placed for observation. It will reach its highest point in the sky at around midnight local time. At a declination of -57°37', it is easiest to see from the southern hemisphere but cannot be seen from latitudes much north of 12°N. At magnitude 4.3, IC2581 is tricky to make out with the naked eye except from a dark site, but is visible through a pair of binoculars or small telescope.

Video courtesy Hubble Space Telescope

Sources: American Meteor Society, In The Sky by Dominic Ford, NASA, The Watchers

Featured image credit: Solar System Scope. Edit: TW

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