Night sky highlights – February 2017

February will be a good month for Moon viewing including a Penumbral Lunar Eclipse. 

5 Feb – see the first quarter Moon from midday to midnight. Look towards the terminator between the bright and dark sides to see the craters – long shadows cast by the crater walls provide better contrast.

11 Feb – Full Moon. The Moon will be located on the opposite side of the Earth as the Sun and it will be above the horizon from 6pm to about 8am the following day. Watch it rise in the evening – it will appear very big in the sky due to something called the Moon illusion. It is also redder when it is low in the sky because of atmospheric effects. It will cross the meridian (its highest point) just after midnight.

Later that night there will be a Penumbral Lunar Eclipse starting at around 10.30pm and reaching a maximum at 12.45am. The Moon will pass through the Earth's penumbra (partial shadow) where it will darken slightly.

19 Feb – look for the last quarter Moon, providing another fantastic opportunity to see the craters and take some photos.

26 Feb – this will be the best time to look for fainter objects in the night sky. The sky will be darker, with the new Moon on the same side of the Earth as the Sun and so not visible in the night sky. This is a great time to look at the Orion Nebula (in the ‘sword’ of Orion) and our nearest big galaxy Andromeda.

27 Feb – an hour or so after sunset look for the planetary conjunction of Mars and Uranus – you will need to use a small telescope to see the blue gas giant. Close by to the west you will also see Venus – through a telescope you will see it in its crescent phase. Venus is especially bright at the moment due to it being relatively close to the Earth.

Please note that all details given are for London and will vary for other parts of the UK.

Get prepared for stargazing

When looking at faint objects such as the stars, nebulae, the Milky Way and other galaxies it is important to allow your eyes to adapt to the dark – so that you achieve night vision. Allow 15 minutes for your eyes to become sensitive in the dark and remember not to look at your mobile phone or any other bright device when stargazing. If you are using a star app on your phone switch on the red night vision mode.

Need a stargazing telescope or decent binoculars? Check out our range of high-quality observing equipment recommended by Royal Observatory astronomers:

See our range of observing equipment

Share your astronomy pictures

Don’t forget to share your pictures of the night sky with us on Twitter @ROGAstronomers or via Facebook. Come and see amazing astronomical images of the night sky in our free Insight Astronomy Photographer of the Year exhibition, now open at the Royal Observatory.

Visit the free Insight Astronomy Photographer fo the Year exhibition

See more of the night sky

Come on a fantastic tour of this month's night sky in our Sky Tonight live planetarium show.

See the Sky Tonight planetatrium show

Join astronomer and comedian Jon Culshaw on 9 March for a unique and personal trip through the cosmos.

Jon Culshaw's Guide to the Night Sky