The Sky in February

By Rao, Joe | Natural History, February 2004 | Go to article overview

The Sky in February


Rao, Joe, Natural History


Mercury is unfavorably placed this month for observers in midnorthern latitudes. It is a "morning star" in February, rising in the southeastern part of the sky an hour before the Sun as the month begins. By the 13th, though, it rises only half an hour before sunrise. Farther south, the planet will be higher-and your odds of seeing it, better. Binoculars will certainly help.

The "star" of the evening is Venus, which, as February passes, grows ever brighter. It is readily visible at sunset, if not before, and becomes ever higher in the sky at sundown as the month goes on-reaching 41 degrees above the horizon in the twilit west-southwest by month's end. At that point, Venus sets three and a half hours after the Sun. Seen through a telescope, Venus gradually swells in apparent size. A beautiful early-evening configuration in the western sky awaits you on February 23, when a crescent Moon approaches to within less than 3 degrees south of Venus.

Fading Mars speeds eastward into the constellation Aries, the Ram, at the beginning of February. On the 1st the planet is roughly 130 million miles from Earth, and it shines at magnitude 0.7. By the 29th it has receded to 154 million miles and dimmed to magnitude 1.1. Through a telescope this month, Mars appears rather small. Throughout most of the month Mars sets between 11:30 P. …

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