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On Tuesday, January 31, near-Earth asteroid 433 Eros makes its closest approach to Earth since 1975. Tuesday morning, it appears some 2.5° south-southeast of the 5th-magnitude star Delta (δ) Sextantis. It will be bright enough to see through binoculars or a small telescope.

The Sun

At the beginning of February, the Sun is still in the constellation of Capricornus, but it moves to Aquarius on February 16th.

At the beginning of February, on East coast USA, sunrise is at 7:07 am EST and sunset is at 5:13 pm EST, which makes ~ 10 hours of daylight. By the end of month the sunset moves to 6:31 am EST and the sunset to 5:37 pm EST. However, the sky is still reasonably dark between 6 pm and 7 am.

The Moon

On Tuesday January 31st, the Moon is at First Quarter.  During the first week of February, as it waxes to a gibbous shape, it rises around the middle of the day sometime between 12:30 pm and 3:15 pm EST, and sets in the early hours  4:30 am – 5:30 am EST next morning.

Sunday, February 5 will be a good opportunity (if weather permits) to observe some lunar craters on its north pole.

Full Moon is at 5:29 pm EST on Tuesday February 7th. At this phase, the Moon is on the opposite side of the sky to the Sun.

February’s Full Moon looks scary, that’s why it was called the “Wolf, Snow or Hunger Moon” in ancient time. For example, early colonists called it the “Trapper’s Moon”,  the Celts referred to it as the “Moon of Ice”  and it was “Storm Moon” for Medieval Englishmen.

Last Quarter is at 12:25 am on February 14th, in Libra. Each following morning it will show up ~1 hour later.

And the new Moon is at 6:10 am EST on Tuesday, February 21st and it sets down at 5:42 pm EST. Each evening it stays up  ~ 1 hour later, and sets further round to the right.

And the next first Quarter occurs again on Thursday March 1st.

Mercury

On February 7th, Mercury is in superior conjunction (which means it is almost directly behind the Sun).  As it appears from Earth, Mercury will pass 2° to the south of the Sun. In February and March, Mercury will readily visible soon after sunset, for about 30 min. Two other bright planets – Venus and Jupiter also will be visible during the same same time frame.

Mercury, on February 22, 2012

Mercury, on February 22, 2012. Picture credit: EarthSky

On February 22, we will have a good chance to watch the  waxing crescent Moon and Mercury together. Mercury will be about 6 degrees to the left of it on the same level. Both the Moon and Mercury should be visible even by  unaided eyes about 45 minutes after sunset, which is 5:39 pm, EST. And if you can’t locate them using your eyes, they will be definitely visible if using binoculars.

Venus

Venus and Jupiter will be visible during all February, sometime 30 minutes after sunset.

Venus can be seen immediately after sunset, and will remain visible well during the evening. Venus opposes Mars retro on February 1 at 6:42 PM EST.

On February 25th, the Moon will appear to the upper right of Venus, less than 3 degrees away.

Mars

In February, Mars looks like an unusually bright star. It is  not as bright as Jupiter, however, but still comparable to Sirius. Although, while Sirius sparkles, Mars shines with a steady, orange-red light.

On Friday, February 3, Mars appears low in the east by 9 p.m. The Red Planet climbs higher throughout the late evening and early morning hours, peaking in the south around 3 am EST. Earlier this week, Mars crosses the border from the constellation Virgo and enters into the constellation Leo.

In seen in the telescope, Mars also appears to be growing larger, through February it increases from 11 to 13 arc-seconds.

Jupiter

It is a  Jupiter observing season.  Jupiter is going to be viewable until about mid-March 2012. In February, it appears  brighter than any of the stars and even brighter than Venus.  At the beginning of the month both planets  are ~ 40 degrees apart while at the end of the month they are only 12 degrees apart .

If seen in the telescope, the disc of Jupiter shrinks  during this month from 39 to 36 arc-seconds in diameter.

Some of Jupiter’s four major moons may be seen (even in binoculars), as tiny points of light close to the planet.

At dusk on February 26th, the crescent Moon will appear to the right of  Jupiter, about 6 degrees away.

Saturn

Relative to the stars, Saturn is almost stationary in the constellation Virgo.   If seen in the telescope, the disc of Saturn appears 18 arc-seconds wide.

And many of Saturn’s moons can also be seen in the telescope if weather permits.

On Monday February 21st,  the waning gibbous Moon will be seen below Saturn.

Meteors

There are no significant meteor-showers in February. It is generally a quiet time for sporadic meteors too.

Algol

The most famous variable star this month is probably Algol. To see its maxima and minima, please refer to the following web site.