February features 3 bright planets and one very dim planet each evening all month. Venus, Jupiter, and Mars stretch across the western sky after sunset looking from right to left. This is a perfect setup for sky-watchers with telescopes, offering plenty of features to enjoy.
Venus the brightest of the 3 planets sets 2 hours after the Sun. Neptune, on February 14th may be seen, with binoculars only, just left and slightly above Venus; and on February 15th, Neptune will appear just right and slightly below Venus.
This shift is due to the motion of Venus. Venus is 1.4 astronomical units from Earth; while Neptune is 30.8 astronomical units from us. (An astronomical unit is the average distance between the Earth and the Sun). We notice the change of position for Venus against the background sky as it moves in its orbit because it is so much closer to us than Neptune. Through a telescope Venus will show us a 90% lit disk this month.
On February 28th Venus and Jupiter (the 2 brightest planets) will appear very close to each other low in the western sky. They will be hard to miss; and should not be! Jupiter offers many fine details of its turbulent, cloudy atmosphere through telescopes of any size, along with its 4 largest moons, seen as tiny jewels on either side of the giant planet.
Mars outshines all the stars of nearby Taurus the bull all month, including Aldebaran, its brightest and reddish star. Mars is just left (east) of the Pleiades star cluster at the beginning of the month and will appear gradually to move further east away from it all month. On February 27th, Mars will be very close and to the left of the 1st Quarter Moon.
Check Mars with binoculars on February 10 and 11th for a chance to see a “binocular” Comet! We might, if the comet brightens enough, see a faint “fuzz-ball” just above and left of Mars (ten o’clock on a clock-face) on the 10th; and just below Mars (6 o’clock) on the 11th. Worth a try!
February Full Moon happens on February 5th.