Northern Hemisphere gazer's guide;

Feb. 1: All four objects are below the moon: Regulus nearest to it, then Jupiter (the brightest), Mars (next brightest), and Saturn (the dimmest). Jupiter and Mars are very close to one another and draw still closer during the next several weeks.

Feb. 2: Regulus is above and to the right of the moon. Jupiter is below and closest to the moon, the Mars, and Saturn more distant. At 3 a.m., Eastern standard time, on the 3rd, however, the moon passes Jupiter.

Feb. 3: Regulus, Jupiter, and Mars are all above the moon (Mars is nearest to it). Saturn is below and to the left.

Feb. 4: The moon is now past Saturn, and all four objects are above and to the moon's right.

Feb. 5: The moon is at apogee, nearest earth.

Feb. 16: A solar eclipse occurs today, not visible in North America. The eclipse is total in a path crossing equatorial Africa, India, and China; partial over a wide area of Africa and Asia. A second solar eclipse this year (on Aug. 10) will be observed as a partial eclipse over much of the United States.

Feb. 17: The moon is at perigee, nearest to earth. This occurs just 24 hours after the new moon of Feb. 16, which ordinarily brings the stronger tides known as spring tides. The effect of spring tide will be reinforced by perigee, and unusually strong tides may be expected this afternoon and tonight.

Feb. 17: The early crescent moon can help you find Mercury this evening. after sunset, as soon as you see the slender crescent moon in the western sky, look for a bright, starlike object to the right of the moon and a little below it. Binoculars will help. Don't confuse Mercury for Venus, higher, much brighter, and easier to see.

Feb. 18-19: The moon moves past Venus at about midnight on the 18th. The planet is above the moon during the evening of the 18th; below, to the right and more distant from the moon on the 19th.

Feb. 19: Mercury is at its greatest distance to the sun's left (east), the position known as greatest easterly elongation. Ordinarily, this places the planet in its best position as an evening star, and this is a favorable evening elongation for Mercury. It can be found above the western horizon shortly after sunset each evening for several more nights.

Feb. 22-23: The star near the first quarter moon in Aldebaran, in Taurus. The moon is to the right of Aldebaran on the night of the 22nd, moving slowly closer to it. After the passing the star at about 6 a.m., EST on the 23rd (the occultation can be seen from parts of Africa and Asia), the moon is to the left of Aldebaran on the 23rd, moving away from it.

Feb. 24: Jupiter is at opposition, located in earth's sky opposite from the sun. The planet, rising at sundown and setting at sunrise, now becomes an evening star, since it will be above the horizon at sundown on successive nights.

Feb. 25: Mars is at opposition from the sun and becomes an evening star. The planet has been brightening noticeably for the past several weeks as it approaches earth. Tonight it is nearly half as bright as Jupiter. But just as rapidly as it has brightened, Mars will dim in the weeks ahead as it moves away from earth.

Feb. 25: Mercury is stationary among the stars and begins its retrograde (westerly) motion in moving between earth and sun (inferior conjunction).

Feb. 26: Mars is nearest earth. However, this is not a favorable opposition. At its closest approach to earth today, the planet will be about 101,327,000 kilometers away (about 62,962,000 miles). At a favorable opposition (when the positions of the two planets in their eccentric orbits combine to bring them closest to one another), Mars comes within 56 million kilometers (about 35 million miles) of earth, and it can appear brighter than Jupiter.

Feb. 29: The bright star near the moon tonight is Regulus, and for the second time this month the star is occulted (covered) by the moon (but not visible in North America). Look for Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn below the moon and Regulus after they have risen higher in the sky. Note how their relative positions have changed from early February. All will be nearer to Regulus, while Mars and Jupiter have drawn closer to one another but farther from Saturn.

all month:

The sun moves from the constellation Carpicornus into Aquarius during February, accompanied by Mercury. Venus moves from Capricornus into Pisces; Mars and Jupiter remain in Leo; Saturn is in Virgo, Uranus in Libra, Neptune in Ophiucus, and Pluto in Virgo.

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