Clear February nights present some great stargazing opportunities. Be sure to bundle up and keep warm while you get outside for some stargazing fun!
Here are a few of Orion's top picks for February stargazing:
- Lunar Pairings - 45 minutes after sunset on the evening of February 1st, the thin crescent Moon will pass about 11 degrees northwest of Mercury low in the western sky. You can enjoy this close pairing with unaided eyes, but you can also obtain a great view in binoculars or a small telescope. If you have a telescope, Neptune will be only 3 degrees east/northeast of Mercury (but tough to see in the twilight)!
- On February 10th, the Moon will be 5 degrees south of Jupiter.
- At dawn on February 19th, the Moon will glide less than a degree from the bright star Spica. Adding to the spectacle, Mars will be only about 5 degrees above Spica towards the northeast.
- On February 22nd, the Moon will be very close to Saturn in the dawn sky. In the Southern Hemisphere, the Moon will actually appear to cover Saturn in what's called an occultation!
- In the pre-dawn sky on February 26th, there will be an amazing pairing of the Moon and Venus. Break out your solar system camera to capture this conjunction!
- New Moon Weekends - New Moons on January 30 and February 28/March 1 mean the best weekends to take your telescope out for some deep sky observing will be February 1st & 2nd and March 1st & 2nd. The dark skies presented by the New Moon on these evenings presents a great, albeit chilly, opportunity to get clear views of deep space objects in larger telescopes.
- Jupiter Shines Bright - The biggest planet in our solar system will be a splendid sight for stargazers throughout February. Look for gigantic Jupiter near the constellation Gemini. Since Jupiter sets well after midnight throughout February, it will be a great planetary target for telescopes and astrophotographers. At mid-month, Jupiter passes through the meridian about 10PM.
- Great Binocular Cluster - Get out your 50mm or larger binoculars for a great sight of the Pleiades star cluster (M45), which will be high in the northwestern sky during February. While you can see the Pleiades with unaided eyes (from a rural location with dark skies), the open star cluster is a much more spectacular sight in binoculars.
- Our Favorite Nebula - At around 9pm throughout February, almost due south and about halfway up from the horizon, our namesake constellation Orion will be in a great viewing position. Use 50mm or larger binoculars or a telescope and look in the area below the three recognizable stars of Orion's belt for a great view of M42, the Orion Nebula. Any telescope will show it, but we feel a 6-inch f/8 telescope with a 32mm, 2-inch eyepiece gives just about the perfect view, with the cloudy nebula neatly filling the field of view (use an Orion Oxygen-III Nebula Filter if you try this from the city).
- Winter Star Clusters - Look east of bright star Sirius with a telescope to see two beautiful star clusters, M46 and M47 in the constellation Puppis. For more star cluster observations in February, look in the constellation Auriga and go after glittering clusters M36, M37 & M38, or M35 in the constellation Gemini.
- Bright Galaxies - In late February, bright galaxies M81 & M82 will be about as high in the sky as they will get for North American stargazers. From a dark sky site, these galaxies are visible with a 50mm binocular, but we suggest you use a large telescope to chase these galaxies down just off the leading edge of the Big Dipper asterism. Many observers consider M81 & M82 the best pairing of visual galaxies in the sky!
- Challenge Object: In the constellation Monoceros there lies the 9th magnitude Hubble's Variable Nebula, named after the astronomer Edwin Hubble (yes, the same as the Hubble Telescope). While small, this distant nebula is bright enough to be picked out as a pin point of light with 70mm binoculars. As the name implies, it does vary in size and brightness since its glow is "powered" by a variable star buried within its nebulosity. What's the smallest scope you can see it with - tell us on Facebook!
9th magnitude Hubble's Variable Nebula
All objects described above can easily be seen with the suggested equipment from a dark sky site, a viewing location some distance away from city lights where light pollution and when bright moonlight does not overpower the stars. All objects have been verified by actual observations by Orion Telescopes & Binoculars Staff at Fremont Peak State Park, and/or Deep Sky Ranch, 60 miles and 90 miles respectively from San Jose International Airport, San Jose, CA.