Bright planets in the dawn and evening sky

Glenn K.
Glenn K. Roberts
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Jupiter is the only naked-eye planet that can be seen throughout the entire night in February.

Visible in the eastern sky as darkness falls, and only setting in the west as dawn approaches, Jupiter presents an awesome sight in telescopes. Binoculars make it possible to watch the planet’s four largest moons — Io, Europa, Callisto and Ganymede — circle their parent planet throughout the night.

Having been visible low in the western sky through the first week of February, Mercury has now drifted behind the sun, and won’t be visible in the early morning sky until the latter part of the month.

Bright Venus shines prominently in the predawn and dawn sky all through February. This morning star rises in the east about two hours before sunrise. It remains the most brilliant star-like object from now until late October, when it will shift into the evening sky. Look for the waning crescent moon to the upper right of Venus in the pre-dawn hours of Feb. 25 and to the planet’s lower left on Feb. 26.

Mars, in the constellation Virgo — the Maiden this month, rises in the east around 11 p.m. during the early part of February and around 10 p.m. by month’s end. Earth will pass between Mars and the sun in April; meaning that, between now and then, the red planet will continue to brighten in the evening sky. The best time to view Mars will be when it reaches its highest point of elevation in the sky about one hour before dawn in early February and about two hours before dawn in the latter part of the month.

Saturn rises in the ESE between 1 and 2 a.m. in early February and closer to midnight by the end of the month. Viewing Saturn and its magnificent ring system is best when it climbs to its highest point in the dawn sky.

February’s full moon was often referred to by the North American native peoples as, quite appropriately, the snow moon because of all the snow that usually comes in this month. It was also sometimes referred to as the hunger moon, because food supplies were often at their lowest for the year.

Until next month, clear skies.

Events (AST):

Feb. 6 — First quarter moon; 2:23 p.m.

Feb. 14 — Full (snow) moon; 7:54 p.m.

Feb. 22 — Last quarter moon; 1:16 p.m.

Glenn K. Roberts is a member of the Charlottetown Centre of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC). His column appears in The Guardian once a month. He welcomes comments from readers. Anyone who would like to comment on his column is encouraged to email him at glennkroberts@gmail.com.

Organizations: Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, North American, Charlottetown Centre

Geographic location: February.Visible, Europa, Mars

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