February's Night Sky: A Journey through the Spectacular Celestial Events
The captivating astronomical events visible in February's night sky include the return of the Milky Way core, the Alpha Centauri meteor shower, and the alignment of various planets and stars.
While April's total solar eclipse might dominate the news, the months leading up to it, starting with February, are brimming with breathtaking astronomical spectacles. This month offers many interstellar attractions for sky enthusiasts, from meteor showers and planet conjunctions to potential sightings of the northern or southern lights. An extra night for stargazing awaits on leap day, Feb. 29.
"Astronomy offers us the incredible opportunity to witness the functioning of the universe directly." - Arya.
The Return of the Milky Way Core
For North American stargazers and astrophotographers, February marks the return of our home galaxy's bright, dynamic core. Visible in the northern hemisphere from February to October, the Milky Way core rises between 3 and 4 a.m. and rises earlier each night until fall.
Celestial Events to Look Out For
Let's explore the major celestial events visible in February's night sky, from the Milky Way to various planets and stars.
The Moon and Bright Spica
On Feb. 1, the waning gibbous moon will pass by blue-hued Spica, the brightest star in the Virgo constellation. The pair can be viewed with the naked eye or stargazing binoculars in the southern sky from the night of Jan. 31 to the early morning of Feb. 1. The moon will be within one degree (or a finger's width) of Spica by 3 a.m. ET.
Alpha Centauri Meteor Shower Peaks
From Jan. 28 to Feb. 21, the skies near the constellation Centaurus will be adorned with the Alpha Centaurid meteor shower. Although it generates a relatively low rate of meteors per hour, around six during its peak on Feb. 8, it's worth observing if you're in the southern hemisphere, especially in a dark-sky location.
New Moon and Planet Alignments
On Feb. 9, a dark, new moon night promises optimal conditions for stargazing. Look to the west-northwest sky in the evening to see the spiral Andromeda Galaxy, the closest central galaxy to the Milky Way. Gaze to the southwest sky around the same time to spot the Pleiades star cluster, Uranus, and Jupiter lined up near the Taurus constellation. The Milky Way core can be observed just above the east-southeast horizon around 4 a.m. ET.
A Jupiter-Moon Meet-Up
On Valentine's Day, the moon and Jupiter will be closely aligned, with Jupiter glowing just above and left of the waxing crescent moon. The pair will be visible in the western sky and travel toward the horizon through the night. Uranus and Neptune will also be visible, adding to the night's celestial celebrations.
Moon Nears Pleiades
From Feb. 16 to 17, spotting Pleiades, the seven sisters star cluster, will be straightforward. The nearly half-illuminated moon will slide within two degrees of the cluster on the evening of Feb. 16. Pleiades, located within the Taurus constellation, are one of the closest star clusters to Earth and a fan favorite among stargazers.
Full Snow "Micromoon"
On Feb. 24 at 7:30 a.m. ET, February's full snow moon will reach peak illumination. This month's full moon is micro, referring to a moon at its farthest point from Earth, creating a stark contrast to the bright, large supermoon. The snow moon's name is derived from February's traditionally heavy snowfall.