February Sky Chart; Northern Hemisphere gazer's guide

All month: Saturn and Jupiter are coming into better viewing positions this month, even though they still rise relatively late. Saturn is up by 11 p.m. or so early in February, and by about 10 p.m. late in the month; Jupiter follows it by two to three hours. In the morning, before dawn, both are well up in the south, to the left (east) of Spica, Virgo's brightest star. The waning moon passes them early in February. Mercury is also a morning star this month, best for a week or so before and after the 8th, but still not very good.

Feb. 1: The moon is still below the horizon during the early evening hours. Now waning, about four days past full, it rises as a gibbous moon about 10 p.m. among the stars in Virgo. Later at night, about three or four hours past midnight, the moon is high in the south, and three bright objects curve to its left and down toward the eastern horizon. The nearest is Spica. Next is the planet Saturn, about as bright as Spica. Jupiter, well to the left and lower, is by far the brightest.

Feb. 2: The moon passes above Spica early this evening, while both are below the horizon. About midnight, when they are up in the east, the moon is between and above both Spica (to the right) and Saturn.

Feb. 3: Rising about midnight near the border between Virgo and Libra, the moon is almost in line with nearby Saturn and distant Spica, which are to the moon's west (right) in that order. During the late morning hours of the 4th, Jupiter will be easily found, well to the left of the moon, near the horizon.

Feb. 4: Last-quarter moon, a morning object visible after midnight, is in Libra. Jupiter rises more than two hours later, and moves up the sky below and to the moon's left.

Feb. 6: Jupiter and the waning crescent moon rise virtually together at about 2 a.m. The moon passes above Jupiter (conjunction) about 8 a.m.

Feb. 8: Mercury, at its maximum separation to the right of the sun (greatest westerly elongation), is best located as a morning star. But in the part of its orbit where it is now (relative to Earth and sun), it is not well placed for viewing, being too low in the dawn to be seen except by observers with an exceptionally clear eastern horizon.

Feb. 9 and 10: Early risers may see the crescent moon low in the east-southeast on both mornings - with Jupiter, Saturn, and Spica curving upward from it toward the south. If you can see the moon at about dawn on the 10th, look above it and to its left and you may see Mercury (binoculars will help). Apogee moon (farthest from Earth) is on the 10th.

Feb. 12: New moon, in Capricornus.

Feb. 13: Saturn becomes stationary among the stars and begins to shift its position westerly (retrograde motion). Until now, it has been drifting slowly to the left (east) of the star Spica (almost its twin in brightness), but now it moves back toward Spica again.

Feb. 15: Weather permitting, you should be able to see the new crescent moon tonight, fairly well up in the west at sundown. If you do see it, you will be looking toward the vernal equinox, the zero point from which astronomers measure east-west distances in the sky. Feb. 16: Jupiter passes above the star Antares in Scorpius. Conjunction is about midnight (Eastern standard time) on the night of the 16th-17th, after which Jupiter moves left (east) of the star, though well north of it.

Feb. 18: Venus and Mars are in conjunction, and Venus moves to the east of, or above, as you see them low in the west, the dimmer Mars in the constellation Pisces.

Feb. 20: The moon is at first-quarter phase (a quarter of the way around the sky to the sun's left), and appears in Taurus tonight, well up in the southern sky at dusk, to the right of Taurus's bright-red star, Aldebaran. The fuzzy-looking group of stars higher than the moon and to its right is the Pleiades, an open star cluster sometimes called the Seven Sisters.

Feb. 23: The waxing gibbous moon can help you locate the ''twin'' stars of Gemini. Look above the moon and a bit to its left. The two stars close by, nearly alike in brightness, are Pollux and Castor (Pollus is the lower and brighter). Well below them is another bright star, Procyon, in Canis Minor.

Feb. 25: The moon is at perigee, nearest Earth. The bright star to its left and a bit lower tonight is Regulus, in Leo. On the evening of the 26th, the moon is to the left of Regulus, having passed above the star in the interim.

Feb. 26-27: Full moon occurs a few hours past midnight on the 27th. It is in the sky all night, from sundown to sunrise, below the stars of Leo, the Lion.

Feb. 28: At month's end, the moon is moving into the morning sky, although it rises tonight only about an hour or so after sunset. Beginning to wane (you can see a bit of darkness spoiling the curve of its right side), it is in Virgo, just about midway between Spica and Saturn (to its left) and Regulus (in Leo, to the moon's right).

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