What’s Up for February: Five morning planets, comet Catalina passes Polaris and icy Uranus and icy Vesta meet near Valentine’s Day.
Hello and welcome. I’m Jane Houston Jones from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
February mornings feature Mercury, Venus, Saturn Mars and Jupiter lined up across the sky. The last time this five-planet dawn lineup happened was in 2005. The planets are easy to distinguish when you use the moon as your guide. Look for reddish Mars near the moon in the early morning of February first. Then, on the third, the moon passes near butterscotch-hued Saturn. On the sixth the moon, Mercury and Venus make a pretty triangle before sunrise. Then it’s Jupiter’s turn to pose with the moon on the 23rd. Through a telescope, Jupiter’s pale yellow is transformed into bands of cream, ochre and tan. Finally, the moon passes Mars again on Leap Day, February 29th.
In case you miss the string of planetary pearls this month, you can see all five planets again in August’s sunset sky, though Venus and Mercury will be very close to the horizon for Northern Hemisphere observers.
Last month comet Catalina’s curved dust tail and straight ion tail were visible in binoculars and telescopes near two galaxies that are close the the handle of the Big Dipper. Early this month, the comet nears Polaris, the North Star. It should be visible all month long for Northern Hemisphere observers. There will be more opportunities to photograph comet Catalina paired with other objects this month. It passes the faint spiral galaxy IC 342 and a pretty planetary nebula named NGC 1501 between February 10th and the 29th. For binoculars viewers, the magnitude-6 comet pairs up with a pretty string of stars known as Kemble’s Cascade on February 24th.
Finally, through binoculars you should be able to pick out Vesta and Uranus near one another this month. You can use the moon as a guide on the 12th and the corner stars of Pegasus all month long.
You can learn about NASA’s missions to the planets and beyond at: www.nasa.gov.
That’s all for this month. I’m Jane Houston Jones.
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