Night Sky Guide for February 2020

Night Sky Guide for February 2020

February 1 - IC2395 well placed for observation. Across much of the world, the open star cluster IC2395 in Vela will be well placed for observation. It will reach its highest point in the sky at around midnight local time. At a declination of -48°09', it is easiest to see from the southern hemisphere but cannot be seen from latitudes much north of 21°N. At magnitude 4.0, IC2395 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 8 - Close approach of the Moon and M44. The Moon and M44 will make a close approach, passing within 1°17' of each other. The Moon will be 15 days old. The Moon will be at mag -12.8, and M44 will be at mag 3.1. Both objects will lie in the constellation of Cancer. They will be too widely separated to fit within the field of view of a telescope but will be visible through a pair of binoculars.

February 8 - α-Centaurid meteor shower. The α-Centaurid meteor shower will be active from January 28 to February 21, producing its peak rate of meteors around February 8. Over this period, there will be a chance of seeing α-Centaurid meteors from anywhere where the shower's radiant point – in the constellation Centaurus – is above the horizon.

February 8 - NGC2808 well placed for observation. Across much of the world, the globular cluster NGC2808 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 -64°51', it is easiest to see from the southern hemisphere but cannot be seen from latitudes much north of 5°N. At magnitude 6.2, NGC2808 is quite faint, and certainly not visible to the naked eye, but can be viewed through a pair of binoculars or a small telescope.

February 9 - Full Moon, Supermoon - 07:33 UTC. The Moon will be located on the opposite side of the Earth as the Sun and its face will be fully illuminated. This full moon was known by early Native American tribes as the Full Snow Moon because the heaviest snows usually fell during this time of the year. Since hunting is difficult, this moon has also been known by some tribes as the Full Hunger Moon, since the harsh weather made hunting difficult. This is also the first of four supermoons for 2020.

February 10 - Mercury at greatest elongation east - 11:48 UTC. The planet Mercury reaches greatest eastern elongation of 18.2 degrees from the Sun. This is the best time to view Mercury since it will be at its highest point above the horizon in the evening sky. Look for the planet low in the western sky just after sunset.

February 11 - Mercury at dichotomy - 23:55 UTC. Mercury will reach half phase in its 2020 evening apparition. It will be shining brightly at mag -0.6.

February 18 - Close approach of Mars and NGC6530 - 09:22 UTC. Mars and NGC6530 will make a close approach, passing within 0°41' of each other. Mars will be at mag 1.2, and NGC6530 will be at mag 4.6. Both objects will lie in the constellation of Sagittarius. hey will be a little too widely separated to fit comfortably within the field of view of a telescope, but will be visible through a pair of binoculars. The Moon will be 25 days old. 

February 18 - Conjunction of the Moon and Mars - 13:17 UTC. The Moon and Mars will share the same right ascension, with the Moon passing 0°45' to the north of Mars. At around the same time, the two objects will also make a close approach, technically called an appulse. The Moon will be at mag -11.1, and Mars at mag 1.2, both in the constellation Sagittarius. The pair will be a little too widely separated to fit comfortably within the field of view of a telescope but will be visible to the naked eye or through a pair of binoculars.

February 18 - Close approach of the Moon and Mars - 13:25 UTC. The Moon and Mars will make a close approach, passing within 0°45' of each other. The Moon will be at mag -11.1, and Mars will be at mag 1.2. Both objects will lie in the constellation of Sagittarius. They will be a little too widely separated to fit comfortably 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 pair will also share the same right ascension – called conjunction.

February 19 - Conjunction of the Moon and Jupiter - 19:36 UTC. The Moon and Jupiter will share the same right ascension, with the Moon passing 0°55' to the south of Jupiter. The Moon will be 26 days old. At around the same time, the two objects will also make a close approach, technically called an appulse. The Moon will be at mag -10.5, and Jupiter at mag -1.9, both in the constellation Sagittarius. The pair will be a little too widely separated to fit comfortably within the field of view of a telescope but will be visible to the naked eye or through a pair of binoculars.

February 19 - Close approach of the Moon and Jupiter - 19:40 UTC. The Moon and Jupiter will make a close approach, passing within 0°55' of each other. The Moon will be at mag -10.5, and Jupiter will be at mag -1.9. Both objects will lie in the constellation of Sagittarius. They will be a little too widely separated to fit comfortably 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 pair will also share the same right ascension – called conjunction.

February 19 - M81 well placed for observation. Bode's Galaxy (M81, NGC3031) 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°03', 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 a small telescope.

February 20 - Conjunction of the Moon and Saturn - 13:39 UTC. The Moon and Saturn will share the same right ascension, with the Moon passing 1°44' to the south of Saturn. The Moon will be 27 days old. At around the same time, the two objects will also make a close approach, technically called an appulse. The Moon will be at mag -10.0, and Saturn at mag 0.5, 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 20 - Close approach of the Moon and Saturn - 14:01 UTC. The Moon and Saturn will make a close approach, passing within 1°44' of each other. The Moon will be at mag -10.0, and Saturn will be at mag 0.5. Both objects will lie in the constellation of Sagittarius. They 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 pair will also share the same right ascension – called conjunction.

February 21 - NGC3114 well placed for observation. Across much of the world, the open star cluster NGC3114 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 23 - New Moon - 15:32 UTC. The Moon will be located on the same side of the Earth as the Sun and will not be visible in the night sky. 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 26 - Mercury at inferior solar conjunction - 01:38 UTC. Mercury will pass very close to the Sun in the sky as its orbit carries it between the Sun and Earth. This occurs once in every synodic cycle of the planet (116 days) and marks the end of Mercury's apparition in the evening sky and its transition to become a morning object over the next few weeks. At the closest approach, Mercury will appear at a separation of only 3°43' from the Sun, making it totally unobservable for several weeks while it is lost in the Sun's glare.

February 27 - Conjunction of the Moon and Venus - 11:51 UTC. The Moon and Venus will share the same right ascension, with the Moon passing 6°15' to the south of Venus. The Moon will be 4 days old. The Moon will be at mag -10.3, and Venus at mag -4.2, both in the constellation Pisces. The pair will be too widely separated to fit within the field of view of a telescope or pair of binoculars but will be visible to the naked eye.

February 27 - IC2581 well placed for observation. Across much of the world, the open star cluster IC2581 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 4.0, IC2581 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 28 - Close approach of Mars and M22 - 22:48 UTC. Mars and M22 will make a close approach, passing within 0°20' of each other. Mars will be at mag 1.1, and M22 will be at mag 5.2. Both objects will lie in the constellation of Sagittarius. They will be close enough to fit within the field of view of a telescope, but will also be visible through a pair of binoculars.

Video courtesy Hubble Space Telescope

Sources: In The Sky by Dominic Ford, NASA

Featured image credit: NASA, ESA, M. Robberto (Space Telescope Science Institute/ESA) and the Hubble Space Telescope Orion Treasury Project Team. Edit: TW

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