Clear February nights present some great stargazing opportunities. Be sure to bundle up and keep warm while you get outside for some stargazing fun!
- Jupiter's Big Night - Get ready for great views of giant Jupiter this month as the gas giant planet reaches opposition on the evening of February 6th - the point in its orbit when it is opposite the Sun in the sky from Earth. The biggest planet in our solar system will be a splendid sight for stargazers throughout February. Look for gigantic Jupiter along the ecliptic path near the constellation Gemini. Any Orion telescope will allow you to observe Jupiter and its four brightest moons, but 6" and larger aperture models will provide more detailed views.
- New Moon - The dark skies presented by the New Moon on the evening of February 18th present a great, albeit chilly, opportunity to get clear views of the winter Milky Way and various deep space objects in larger telescopes.
- 2 Conjunctions of Earth's Nearest Neighbors - February boasts two close encounters in early evening skies. About an hour after sunset on February 20th, look low in the western sky to see a conjunction of Venus, Mars and the waxing crescent Moon. This triple-conjunction presents a great photo opportunity for celestial shutterbugs. Two days later, catch an early evening conjunction of Venus and Mars on February 22, when our closest neighboring planets will appear just a half-degree apart in the evening sky. Both conjunctions will be a wonderful sight in astronomy binoculars or wide-field telescopes.
- Great Binocular Cluster - Get out your 50mm or larger binoculars for great views 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 or telescopes with a low-power wide-field eyepiece.
- 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 use a 6" or larger reflector to immerse yourself in this stellar nursery (use an Orion Oxygen-III Nebula Filter or Orion UltraBlock Narrowband Filter if you try this from the city).
- Winter Star Clusters - Look east of constellation Canis Major's brightest 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 sparkling 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 or larger 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 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 telescope you can see it with? Tell us on Facebook!
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.