Night sky for February 2012
Sun: Although the Sun's elevation remains high at 64 degrees, our nights begin to lengthen as the month goes on.
Moon: There is no First Quarter this February. Full Moon is on the 8th and Last Quarter falls on the 15th. New Moon follows on the 22nd. On the 26th, the crescent Moon appears to the right of Venus. On the next evening, it is to the lower right of Jupiter.
Planets: Mercury is too close to the Sun this month to be seen.
Venus is a brilliant object in the western evening sky, setting around 9.45pm. On the 10th it is within half a degree of the planet Uranus. A pair of binoculars will show them together, but wait until around 9pm, when the sky has darkened.
Mars has become much brighter as it moves closer to opposition. By late February it will be rising just after the Sun sets. Mars and the Moon are within nine degrees of each other on the 10th. Do not confuse Mars with the nearby star Regulus, which is also reddish in hue. Regulus is the fainter of the two.
Jupiter is setting earlier and this means it is best viewed in the late twilight. Throughout the month, Jupiter is a little above Venus and to its north.
Saturn rises at around 11pm and is best viewed in the early morning. The planet is in the constellation of Virgo, and close to Spica.
Stars and Constellations:
The Milky Way lies overhead, with the constellations of the Southern Cross in the south and Taurus in the north marking its visible boundaries. Sirius and Canopus, the two brightest stars, appear almost overhead.
If we look northwards, Orion, with its distinctive belt of stars is readily picked out.
To its west is the bright star Aldebaran, which belongs to Taurus. Slightly lower, to the north-east of Orion, are the two main stars of Gemini - Castor and Pollux.
The Magellanic Clouds lie below Canopus and to the west of the Southern Cross.
* Prepared for The Taranaki Daily News by Tom Whelan, Cape Egmont Observatory.
Taranaki Daily News