The best of astronomy this month:
By Patricia Skelton, Astronomy Education Officer
(Details given are for London and may vary for other parts of the UK).
Top 3 things to see this month
- 1 Feb - Spot the waning crescent moon as well as the planets Venus and Jupiter in the early morning sky.
- 13 Feb - See the conjunction of the planets Mars and Uranus.
- 27 Feb - Catch a glimpse of Mercury lying above the western horizon just after sunset.
Look Up! Podcast
As well as taking you through what to see in the night sky each month, Royal Observatory Greenwich astronomers pick their favourite astro news story. For February they're chatting about how citizen scientists observed meteorites striking the Moon's surface during January's lunar eclipse and also about a rare exoplanet discovered by citizen scientists using Kepler spacecraft data. Have a listen below then vote for your favourite news story on our Twitter poll during the first week of the month.
Our podcast is available on iTunes too - search Look Up! and rate us if you enjoyed listening.
February may be the shortest month of the year, but it is certainly not short of astronomical treats for skywatchers. The Moon acts as a celestial tour guide this month highlighting some of the things for us to look at in our night sky. On February 1st, early-risers with a clear view of the south-eastern horizon will see the waning crescent moon lying near Venus. Also making an appearance in the dawn sky is Jupiter, which can be found to the upper right of Venus. At the beginning of the month, Saturn lies low in the dawn sky but will continue to get higher as each day passes. Keep an eye on both Venus and Saturn – on the 18th, Saturn and Venus will be in conjunction with Saturn lying below Venus.
The Moon reaches new moon on February 4th making this the best time of the month to observe deep sky objects. The Beehive cluster is one object that is ideal to look at under dark sky conditions. Containing around one thousand stars, this open star cluster is located in the constellation of Cancer and appears as a fuzzy spot on the sky when looked at with the naked-eye. Use a pair of binoculars though and you’ll see the stellar swarm that earned this cluster its name. Later on in the month, on the night of the 17th/18th of February, the waxing gibbous moon will pass by the same cluster.
Two astronomical treats await us on the night of February 13th. The first treat of the evening is the conjunction of Mars and Uranus. Uranus’ magnitude borders on the edge of naked-eye visibility and the planet is often difficult to spot in the night sky. However, on this night, Mars provides observers with the opportunity to locate this distant ice giant. Using a pair of binoculars, find Mars and you’ll spot blue-green Uranus in the same field of view.
The second treat of the evening sees the Moon having a close encounter with the Hyades star cluster, the distinctive V-shaped pattern of stars representing the head of Taurus, the Bull. The bright orange-red star Aldebaran, which marks the “eye” of the Bull, is not a member of the Hyades cluster. Aldebaran is much closer to the Earth than the Hyades, but just happens to lie along our line of sight to the cluster making it appear to be a cluster member.
February’s full moon is the second of the three supermoons of 2019 and occurs on the 19th of February. This month’s supermoon is the closest of the three so don’t miss it because the next supermoon as good as this one requires a wait of almost eight years! On the same night, the full moon is near blue-white Regulus, the brightest star in the constellation of Leo. Regulus, also known as the Heart of the Lion, lies close to the ecliptic – the sun’s apparent path across the sky throughout the year. Being so close to the ecliptic, Regulus often participates in lunar and planetary occultations and conjunctions.
Of the five brightest naked-eye planets, Mercury is often said to be the most challenging to see. Being the innermost planet, Mercury tends to get lost in the glare of the Sun and this is why Mercury is often referred to as the elusive planet of our solar system. But, on the 27th of February, Mercury reaches its greatest eastern elongation so be sure to catch a glimpse of the planet lying above the western horizon after sunset.
The Moon's phases this month
- 4 Feb - new moon (9:04pm)
- 12 Feb - first quarter moon (10:26pm)
- 19 Feb - full moon (3:54pm)
- 26 Feb - last quarter moon (11:28am)
- When looking at faint objects such as stars, nebulae, the Milky Way and other galaxies it is important to allow your eyes to adapt to the dark – so that you can achieve better 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’re using a star app on your phone then switch on the red night vision mode.
- Need a stargazing telescope or binoculars? Check out our range of high quality observing equipment recommended by Royal Observatory astronomers:
Share your astronomy pictures
Congratulations to Alyn Wallace for his beautiful image of the night sky. He shared his image on our astrophotography Facebook page and we chose it for February's banner image.
If you want to be in with a chance to showcase your astrophotography skills on the banner of next month's night sky blog, share your photos via our Royal Observatory Astrophotography Facebook group
You can also connect with us on Twitter: @ROGAstronomers
Hubble Vision - gallery exhibition
Come and see some of the most spectacular images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope in our free exhibition at the Royal Observatory Greenwich.
The exhibition is open daily until 12 May 2019.
See more of the night sky
Come on an amazing tour of this month's night sky in our Sky Tonight planetarium show delivered live by a Royal Observatory Greenwich astronomer.
Central image: © Alyn Wallace
Resources for teachers and students
The Royal Observatory learning team have also created:
- Free animated videos that answer the biggest questions in astronomy and free resources to go alongside them.
- A whole host of podcasts featuring interviews with real space scientists, astronauts and active researchers working in UK Universities.