Night Sky Star Gazing – February 2017

02/02/2017 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Google+ Astronomy Help Articles

Whats in the night sky?

Star Gazing February 2017 What’s up in the sky this month?

The February may not have any super moons or major meteor showers as last fall, but the winter months make for some fabulous stargazing.

Mercury is in the pre-dawn sky and sinking back towards the Sun as February opens. Southern hemisphere observers with unobstructed horizons may find it during the early part of the month.

Venus is still shining brilliantly in the evening sky and is impossible to miss, at magnitude -4.8. That is bright enough to spot with the unaided eye in broad daylight if you know just where to look. The brightness is because the planet is swinging in between Earth and the Sun. Through a small telescope, it will be seen as a crescent. Don’t expect to see any surface details though as the planet is permanently shrouded in cloud. Venus is close to Mars at the start of the month.

Mars is still hanging on in the evening sky, shining like a bright star, but is totally put in the shade by the overpowering brilliance of Venus. The planet is receding on the far side of the Sun now and its brightness fades from magnitude 1.1 to 1.3 during the month.

Jupiter, the biggest planet in the Solar System, is very well placed for is a brilliant planet in the morning sky at the start of the month, rising half an hour or so after midnight. Find it in the constellation of Virgo, not far from its brightest star, Spica. By month’s end, it rises before 11pm. The planet brightens slightly from -2.1 to -2.3, making it the brightest object in the sky after Venus. A small telescope will reveal the planet’s belts and bands as well as the four main moons, known as the Galilean satellites, Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto.

Saturn lies in the morning sky this month, rising before 5am at the start of February but two hours earlier by month’s end. To the naked eye, it resembles a bright yellow star at magnitude 0.5 A small telescope will show its rings are wide open, making it an attractive sight.

Uranus is visible in the early evening sky. The planet is just visible to the unaided eye if you have an exceptionally clear, dark sky, but binoculars make it much easier to spot. You can find it in shining at magnitude 6.0 in the constellation of Pisces.

Neptune the last of the eight worlds recognised as planets in our Solar System, is too close to the Sun to be easily seen this month.


Tips for Observing the Night Sky

When observing the night sky, and in particular deep-sky objects such as star clusters,nebulae, and galaxies, it’s always best to observe from a dark location. Avoid direct light from street lights and other sources. If possible observe from a dark location away from the light pollution that surrounds many of today’s large cities.

You will see more stars after your eyes adapt to the darkness, usually about 10 to 20 minutes after you go outside. Also, if you need to use a torch to view the sky map, cover the light bulb with red cellophane. This will preserve your dark vision.

Finally, even though the Moon is one of the most stunning objects to view through a telescope, its light is so bright that it brightens the sky and makes many of the fainter objects very difficult to see. So try to observe the evening sky on moonless nights around either New Moon or Last Quarter.


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