Star Diary: What’s in the night sky, February 2022
A guide to February 2022's night sky in the northern hemisphere.
There's lots to see in the night sky in February 2022.
Early in the month, you should be able to see Comet 19P Borley near the crescent Moon.
Later on in the month, the Moon makes its journey through the Hyades and Pleiades in the constellation of Taurus before passing past Castor and Pollux in Gemini on 12 and 13 February.
By 20 to 21st the double star Porrima will be well placed to view.
Then towards the end of the month, minor worlds Vesta and Ceres will make a good show.
For more highlights and advice, listen to the podcast below.
Ezzy Greetings, listeners, and welcome to Radio Astronomy's Guide to the best things to see in the night sky in February 2022. I'm Ezzy Pearson and I'm joined on the podcast today by reviews editor Paul Money, who's going to be telling us the best sights to see in the northern hemisphere this month. So Paul, what are your recommendations for February 2022?
Paul Well, we get off with an early morning session I'm afraid. I know it means getting up either set your alarm or you may be an early riser. In that case, you're actually ideally suited of this. But in the morning, right at the beginning of February, say for the first week or so trying to catch Mercury, it's not its best apparition. It has to be said because it's a very low apparition, but it's not impossible to get. And the beauty is we've got the guide of Venus because Venus is now... If you remember for months, we seem to be going on about Venus in the evening sky and it was lingering and lingering. Well it's finally in the morning sky, making a presence felt. So Venus is a really good guide to Mercury. But there's not just Venus there in the morning sky and the bright twilight, there's Mars as well. So at the moment, we've got a trio of planets to look out for. You want to be looking at about 7am, so not too long before sunrise, because sunrise, of course, is gradually changing as we get into February sort of thing. And there will be rising so earlier and earlier. Oh! The nights are getting shorter. That's terrible for us astronomers, you know? But so, you know, so but Mercury, it's not particularly well based, but Venus will give you a guide because they form a triangle. So you've got a lot on Mars and Mercury. The lower parts of the triangle and Venus is the apex. It's not an isosceles triangle is not even a right triangle, but at least it gives you an idea. If you can see Venus, you can see Mars, then there's a good chance the left you might pick out Mercury as well. So you know that's a good start to the actual year. Venus and Mars are moving against the background stars, of course, as well. And as the month progresses, as we head towards mid-month, they will get in conjunction. And actually, if it's dark enough, you might just spot the teaspoon asterism in Sagittarius between the two as well. So the Venus one side, and Mars, the other.
Paul So that's in the morning sky. Now, if you don't like getting up and I I'm not the best, I have to say. I usually smash the alarm sort of thing around, turn it off and then go back to sleep. But we're back in the evening sky again, and but we're still in the twilight. This is the evening twilight. And again, for a long time, we were talking about Jupiter and Saturn. We've lost Saturn. It's not going to be visible this month, but Jupiter will be visible for the first couple of weeks in the evening twilight. It is dropping rapidly, though, into the bright twilight now. And so really, by mid-month, I mean, you'll be lucky if you see it into the third week of February, but Jupiter is there now to be caught. This is your last chance in the evening sky for quite a few months because it will return then into the morning sky, just like Venus did. So they're in Aquarius, Venus, sorry, Jupiter and Jupiter's in Aquarius, and so is Neptune. But Neptune is a bit further on, but on the 2nd to the 3rd. You can look for the Crescent Moon now, the crescent moon on the 2nd is directly below Jupiter, so you've got to catch it because it will set quicker than Jupiter. So if you spot Jupiter early on, you should be able to see the Crescent Moon directly below it. That's on the 2nd February. Look about 6 p.m. That's about the ideal time, and you want to be looking off the southwest west southwest in that general direction. Once you got the moon, once you got Jupiter, it will be a lot easier. Now, the next night on the 3rd, I should say the evening, the crescent moon itself is below Neptune. Now, several degrees below Neptune, but it gives you a guide to where Neptune is sort of things. You can go from there with binoculars and you should be able to pick out Neptune, which of course, is classed as the last planet now in the Solar System. Last official planet until they discover another one. Knowing My luck by the time this comes out, that look discovered another one, that's my sort of luck. But the beauty about the Moon, the crescent moon will be lingering right next to Psi 2 and 3 Aquarii. And that's a nice little curve of stars, so things that'll be quite a pretty pattern I reckon in binoculars and even small, wide angle view telescopes sort of give you a nice, rich field View. You should be able to see these three stars lingering next to the Crescent Moon as well. I always like those little... the extras, because often we see the Moon and it's so bright drowns out the stars around it. But when it's a crescent moon, you actually get... There isn't as much moonlight to drown out the sky, so you still got a reasonably dark sky. And so that's why about six o'clock ish the sky is getting dark enough. So I think to actually see some stars. So yeah, I always like when there's a reasonable group of stars next to the Moon as well, often we talk about a conjunction with one Star, but I say you've got three stars quite close for me in this little triangle and then the Moon with it as well, so that's on the 3rd, Psi 1, 2, 3 Aquarii as such. Now we mentioned Neptune as it happens on February the 3rd, Neptune is also quite close to a sixth magnitude star. Neptune's around about 7.8 magnitude. So a lot of changes, so you'll actually see the star brighter. So the key, though, is that you can use the star to find Neptune. So if you use the star chart, you should better find the star, which is actually known Hipparcos 115953. They love these romantic names, don't they sort of thing?
Paul Yes, they are very, very technical. But as I say, Neptune is classed as a blue planet, much like the Earth is because the atmospheric gases that make it look blue. I always find it looks blue in a telescope. Binoculars, I'm not sure sure enough to have large binoculars just to pick out a bluish tint. I had to say, but telescopes are definitely a bluish hint to hear that. So the thing is, it's close. It's nice when the planets are close to a star but is brighter than the planet because it guide you to it, allow you to definitely spot. So this is a good way of spotting Neptune's on the 3rd. Neptune is close to the 6.0 magnitude star over in Aquarius, so we'll look out for that as well. Now, February, we tend to follow the Moon a lot, and we don't often mention comets because, you know, most comets don't get that bright, do they sort of thing. You know, we're, you know, we're always on the hunt for the really bright comet that's going to be the showstopper for the years or so, and we keep our fingers crossed. But there is an Eighth magnitude comet, Comet 19 P Borrelli that's in the night sky. And it's in Pisces. So eighth magnitude, it's literally the classic fuzzy blob. Yeah. So it's one of those things I think you might be needing large binoculars and a small telescope. But again, we've got something to guide us to it this time because on the 6th, we've actually got the crescent, the thick crescent moon. Now there will be more moonlight, but hopefully it will... Because the moon is just to the left of the comet, you'll be able to spot it. And what helps as well is in actual fact Omicron Piceum is directly above forming the apex of a triangle with the comet and the moon. So you've got a good way of finding this comet. It may not be spectacular, but if you've never seen a comet before, then you know this on a faint comet as such, this is eighth magnitude, so it gives you a chance to actually spot it. I love it when the Moon and even a star actually guide you to an interesting object that you probably wouldn't normally bother with, you know, so they try to get Comet Borrelli on the 6th. I'm looking at about seven o'clock in the evening. Let the sky get reasonably dark. But bear in mind, the moonlight with will actually sort light be a bit bright for the comet itself, but it shouldn't make it impossible. I've seen objects similar to brightness that next to the Moon, so we've often seen clusters when there's been an occultation of a cluster take place. So that's worth having a look at.
Ezzy I think, yeah, it's definitely one of those. If you've never seen a comet before, as you said, it's probably not the most perfect set of circumstances. But you know, it should be on most astronomers bucket lists to see a comet, they're definitely one to keep an eye out for.
Paul And not wait for the real showstoppers because we always have a very long wait for them. So there are a lot of comets about that tend to be missed because we always tend to go for the the bright ones. But the dedicated amateurs out there are actually always hunting these fainter comets as such. And I have to say, producing some stunning pictures of the well. I'm not jealous really, as I'm not really jealous on honest. I'm not honestly jealous. But yeah, I might even have a go trying to image it and see what the moonlight effects are. Even if it's just a little blob, you know, to capture, it will be quite something.
Ezzy Yeah, I'm going to be an interesting experiment as well. You can get, even with the Moon there.
Paul we should always experiment. You should you should never be put off by, say, the bright moon next to a fainter object, because it's surprising what you can do. Especially, with ... I wouldn't say manipulation. I have seen where people have taken a picture and then plonked the Moon in a view, and you think, no, that's not quite accurate.
Ezzy And you can always tell.
Paul You can, unfortunately. But the point is, there are ways of manipulating the data, photographing the object sort of thing so that you over enhance the moon to bring out the comet and then you merge a better picture of the moon with it. So there are ways of trying. What you're trying to do is reproduce the view you see. So you know, it's a clever bit of processing, but say. What you don't want to do is take a picture of the comet on a northern night when the moon is nowhere near and then photograph the moon and then superimposed and said, Oh look, this is what I saw. Now I always think if you're honest and say, Look, this is a simulation of what I saw. I don't mind, those, is it's when you want to make out "This is the picture I took", you think 'no, no, not with a bright moon like that right next door. That's such a comet as such" but worth having a go I think.
Paul Now the next evening, as it happens again, the Moon guides us to another planet. And of course, this is the planet Uranus. Now Uranus is up in Aries now, so it's almost the moon is almost half phase. It's that first quarter the next night that doesn't do any good for us to find Uranus, it's moved on. So this is the 7th February. And what we find is actually Uranus itself is not too far from the star 29 Arietus. So again, you've got a star on the Moon to help guide you to Uranus. So the thing about this is that the star itself is about magnitude 5.6, so very similar to the actual planet as well. So worth having a look at. And they all fit nicely in the field of view of a pair of 10x50 binoculars. So again, look about seven o'clock. Find the Moon. If you can't find the Moon, it must be cloudy. If you're really struggling to find the Moon, then it's obviously not worth going out looking for something fainter.
Ezzy Either that, or you've got your phases wrong.
Paul Yes, yes, you look at it the wrong phase. You got your date wrong. So yeah, looking with pair of binoculars, 10x50s, about seven o'clock for the Moon and use that as a guide. Uranus should be directly above it. And then so the star itself 29 Arietus will actually be to the upper right of Uranus. There is another star to the left of the Moon that is 31 Arietus so that you can spot that in the binoculars as well. So there we also say you'll have deep sky as in the stars and you actually got two Solar System objects as well, the Moon and the planet Uranus. And again, Uranus in a telescope does look greenish to me. Definitely. I'm still not sure about binoculars. I just you need a lot of light to activate the colour cones in your eye. You know, that gives you the colour vision sort of things. So I think telescopes give you the colour better than, say, binoculars, unless your using large binoculars itself.
Paul OK, let's move on to a couple of days. The Moon keeps moving on. I mean, we all know the moon goes round the Earth sort of thing that it takes effect of the month, where we get month from, then that's the Moon-th as such. But the point is, couple of days later, the moon is in a nice position. Is the other side. Now of first quarter, it's the day after the first quarter. But it lies directly between the Pleiades and Aldebaran and the Hyades cluster. We've got to remember the Hyades cluster, Aldebaran looks as if he's part of it and it isn't. It's actually half the distance. So it's an interloper really sort of thing. He's not a true member of the cluster of the Hyades. So the Moon's there between the two. So I love these interactions, when you get them directly in the line between the two. And again, you want to be looking around about 7pm for this and this is naked eye. You get to see them naked now. The Moonlight will drown out some of the fainter stars, but you should make out just the bright stars of the Pleiades and definitely of the Hyades and Aldebaran as well. And because Aldebaran is the red eye of the bull. Though I think although I think it always looks a bit orange to me, rather than deep red. As such, a look about south, so that's a nice advantage for once. You're not looking down towards the horizon looking quite high up, so the sky will be clearer, better clarity. You won't have the horizon mugginess sort of thing. You know, the haze that you get at the horizon itself. So about seven o'clock and you should see that the moon between the Pleiades and the Hyades and Aldebaran itself.
Paul OK, as we move on, we get into Gemini with the Moon. And again, I like it when it's close to stars on the actual 12th, it's close to Epsilon Geminorum. It's Quite close, in actual fact, sort of thing. It's a bit more than the width of the Moon. Moon's about half a degree, so it's just slightly more than a half degree away from the the edge of the disk of the Moon to the actual star itself. But again, if you never really paid any attention to Epsilon Geminorum, now's your chance. You'll easily find it because it's the only bright star right next to the Moon at that particular time. Now, the next evening, I mean, look about seven o'clock ish. You should think fairly high the next evening, the Moon, in actually fact is above... Well, it sort of forms a triangle actually with the sort of like, I think it's Nu Geminorum and Kappa Geminorum. And the thing about Kappa Geminorum is a slightly orange star, so it's actually nice to look at. But the Moon itself, you'll also have to the left of those, Castor and Pollux the too brightest stars. So they'll dominate. So it actually naked eye. You'll generally see the Moon. And then you'll see to the left and above it, so I think the two vertical lines are the two stars, Castor and Pollux, then they are the main twins. They are the twins. The mark out Gemini itself. But the Moon will actually be quite close to them. And so it will really show well next to Kappa Geminiorum because it will be the star below it. Because again, it's a good way of identifying some of the stars when the Moon is next to them, if you've never really traced out the pattern before.
Paul Now you mentioned earlier sort of thing back to the morning sky, but Venus and Mars are in conjunction sort of thing, so you've got to... This is the February the 13th now, so I'll think so. And we've had the two stars of Castor. And I think where the Moon next time on the evening of 13th. On the morning of 13th is when Venus and Mars are in conjunction. When we say conjunction with this is a proper conjunction in that they share the same right ascension coordinates or within sort of a matter of a minute or so of position. So to all intents and purposes, they just look close together in the sky. But there are nice photographic opportunity and well worth having a go at. Now we're heading towards full Moon, which this times occurs quite close to Regulus in Leo on 16th. Now full Moon, if you like the full Moon, you know you can watch the ray patterns on the Moon something. So if the Moon is your thing, this is the time to get the right patterns. You don't get the craters, do you quite as well deliniated?
Ezzy No you really need to have the shadows.
Paul You need the shadow. You need the Terminator quite close for that. But some of the craters show quite bright sort of thing. Artistarcus is quite a bright crater and Copernicus is a bright crater as well and say you've got the you've got the difference between the mare and the actual Highlands as well, the dark to the bright and then you've got the right patterns as well. So there is something to do with full moon is just that it spoils the view of the rest of the sky, you know, the deep sky.
Ezzy And if any of our listeners are thinking they'd like to have a go at finding out what they can see during the full moon. We have lots of guides about what you can see on our website www.skyatnightmagazine.com, where we talk you through, you know how to to look at rays and things like that.
Paul And of course, the magazine often features a particular feature of the Moon each month as well as a highlight, though a great way of getting to know our nearest neighbour if that's your thing. Now the moon itself, as I will now then be in the morning sky because once you get past full Moon, it rises later and later into the night. So we're getting into the morning sky now so we're switching back to say 1:00 am in the morning. In that case, you actually find the Moon on the 20th quite close to Gamma Virginis. Now Gamma Virginis is a really nice double star. It's one of those that has a long period when it's really difficult to separate the two components. But the good news is they've been widening out, separting out, so now they're quite easy to separate. So if you've never looked at a wide double star, have a go with Gamma Virginis, you need a telescope to home in on it, but it's well worth having a look at something and the Moon is next to it, so it identifies the stars, so it's quite close... To the lower left. In fact, of gamma. Gamma is called Porrimor, by the way, so they always think of porridge myself. I don't know why that we're doing this too close to lunchtime when we record this, you know, getting hungry is what it is. But, you know, but it is a lovely double star and they're both quite white stars, very similar evenly matched brightness as well. It's almost like to headlights looking at you when you look at a high magnification with a telescope. So that's on 20th. The next night, in actual... or should say the next morning, the Moon's moved away, of course, and now it's a bit further away from the star. But it's Alpha Virginis, it's Spica or Spicer depends on how people... I mean, the pronouncation is a weird thing because there's nobody alive from the era when these were named for us to actually hear what they actually said. So it's one of those things, the Spika, spice-er, speaker, I've heard it pronounced. But he's Alpha Virginias, and it's the brightest star actually in Virgo. And the Moon is to the upper left of it. On the 21st in this particular case. But again, you want to be look at about 1am onwards. So, you know, either have a late night or set your alarm again. I think I'd stay up rather than trying to get up myself. Now because it's in the morning sky, it's going to gradually move through the constellations. It doesn't have a particularly close encounter with Alpha Libra. We have that in January Alpha Libra, Zubinelganubi, which is another nice, wide double star. But on the 24th, we have an interest.... We have an occutattion and it's actually a relatively famous star, it's Rho Ophiuchi because there's a bright nebulosity around it. The Rho Ophiuchi complex. Now this is all above antares and Scorpius and... it's one of those things that Ophiuchus really should be the 13th constellation of the zodiac because he actually takes up more space than Scorpius does actually on the zodiacal line. But Antares is close by. The Moon will be above Antares, and in fact, it's a day past last quarter. Everything is happening, a day passed or before the actual the phase that we normally deal with the quarter phase or... the last quarter phase in this case. So this is a 24th, and as the Moon rises sort of thing, what you'll find is that it will actually begin to occult Rho Ophiuci. So watch that for an hour, as the Moon occults it. The star will reappear from behind the dark limb, and I always find those quite amazing because it's quite fast. It's instantaneous when it actually reappears because you know you've got to be careful on the dark limb because you can't see any features on the dark limb, can you? So you don't... you can't work out exactly... So you watch the limb and suddenly the star will appear. And I think they quite what it feels miraculous the sudden appearance of the star. And yet, you know, he's going to happen. Yeah, it's funny. You know, he's going to happen. And yet it still catches you unawares when it suddenly reappears from beyond the lunar limb and at the same time as they do so... Again, we're looking around about four to five o'clock in the morning sort of thing. By the time we get to five o'clock Antares is really as well, and this is the red heart of the Scorpion itself. So it's a shame Mars isn't in this particular part of the sky at the moment is further over in Sagittarius. But because Mars is, of course, often classed as the rival of Antares, and Antares the rival of Mars. So there we are. So that's on the 24th.
Paul We're getting towards the end now because the they we've got another interesting example with Mars and Venus, we're back to Mars, Mars and Venus in the morning sky. We're looking at about six o'clock. So no longer seven a.m. because it's getting lighter and lighter so it's now six o'clock in the morning. And look of Mars and Venus, and they look the same as they did when they're in conjunction, they're a little bit further apart. What I want to do, though, is look a third of the way from Mars up to Venus on the 26th because the minor planet Vesta is emerging out of the solar glare and it should now be visible. It's magnitude 7.6. So it's a binocular object, so you should be able to see it. So this is picking out another minor planet, as such and using Mars and Venus as a guide to it. So about a third of the way from Mars up towards Venus, you should see this faint little dots and that faint little dot will be a minor planet. Look towards the southeast about 6am for the two planets and then see with binoculars if you can actually spot this minor planet Vesta sort of thing. So there we are. And of course, Vesta is one of those that's been visited by a spacecraft, so we know what the features you like on it. I always like to imagine the the actual... Although it looks like a dot of light. In all amateur telescopes. "it's just a dot of light, is Vesta" It's so tiny.
Ezzy And the professional ones as well.
Paul Yes, that's true. That's true. I think there was only Hubble that started to resolve it as any sort of features. But, you know, being interested in the turm, the James Webb telescope, I think they might in actual fact. Because they're looking at it in the infrared and the heat coming off from it. That'll be interesting.
Ezzy Not for a fair old while, but yeah.
Paul I like to imagine the pictures. And when I look at that dot, I remember the pictures of Vesta and think, Wow, that that's a world in its own right, really in that respect. Now, the next morning, the thick crescent moon lies below Mars. Now this is where we get into difficulty because the below Mars and Mars is quite low anyway, so I'd give it another 30 minutes. So about 6:30am. Now the sky will be getting light. As you'll lose Vesta, you'll still have Venus, you'll still have Mars, but now you'll have the crescent moon below it. But this is one of the circumstances of the Moon's orbit sort of thing. It goes through this phase where it's actually below the ecliptic and by quite a large amount. So, you know, it takes a lot to rise and often when it rises by then, the sun's rising. So don't look a lot later than that because you'll be getting the brighter skies and you'll lose it. And obviously, we don't want you to be catching an accidental glimpse of the Sun, although to be fair, t's a long way off to the left hand side, so you won't really see. But you know, it's it's an aethereal thing when you see this this slim crescent moon below Mars in the early morning twilight sort of thing, you know, as it begins to emerge out of the low haze as such. so there we are. So as worth having a look at sort of the 27th, the morning of the 27th. And we've got one final encounter and funnily enough, we're back to Taurus, the Pleiades and the Hyades and Aldebaran because the dwarf planet Ceres lies between them. So again, this is a great example of catching an object, and it's even better because he's quite close to a star called 37 Taurii and it's a series of magnitude 8.7, which is a lot fainter than 37 Taurii but you'll be able to spot it in large binoculars. So there's a whole range of Solar System objects to be able to pick off this month. We've covered planets, we've got the Moon as usual. We've got a comet and we've got some minor worlds as well. And of course, Ceres is now a dwarf planet, so we've got one of those to tick off as well. So again, you can be looking about seven o'clock in the evening. So it's not. It's not... You don't have to get up for this. You can actually observe it at a quite convenient time. And I I do like events like that, you know, at a convenient time, the far easier to observe, aren't they?
Ezzy Absolutely. It does sound like there's going to be a lot of early morning starts this month.
Paul It's one of those things with the planet shifting and when Jupiter moves into the morning sky from next month it'll be even more. But that's that's the way it runs. We've got a whole run right through that towards the end of 2021, where there was a lot of activity in the evening sky. And if you have a lot of activity in the evening sky, at some point the emphasis switches to the morning sky. But I think it's certainly worth getting up for if you but you do need a good clear horizon. And I my problem is I haven't got a very good morning horizon. So, you know, by the time things clear and get high enough for me to spot them, it's too bright. So it's one of those things, a lot of things I miss out. So I hope our listeners actually get a chance to see some of these things and do get a chance to observe in the morning sky because I think it's worth trying for some of these objects. Certainly brilliant Venus. I mean, it's gorgeous planet anyway.
Ezzy Yeah. And so to recap, it sounds like at the beginning of the month, we've got Mercury, Venus and joined by Mars as well. That will be in the early morning sky, then moving on later into the month, onaround about the 6th Comet 19P, Borley is going to be joined by the near Crescent Moon and another star to form a triangle, so that'll be a good one to look out for. Maybe we'll even be able to get an image of that one. If you do, make sure you let us know because we'd love to see that. Then on the 9th, we've got the moon between the Hyades and the Pleiades in the constellation of Taurus. Then later on, 12th and 13th of February, you've got the Moon moving through the constellation of Gemini passing by Castor and Pollux, so keep an eye out for it on those two nights as well. Then on the 20th to the 21st. The double star Porrimer or Gamma Virginias is going to be well placed, so why not have a look at that and see if you can resolve the two stars. Then on the 24th, we've got Rho Ophiuci which will be occulted by the Moon, so keep an eye out for that one. Then on the 26th, you have the planets, Mars and Venus flanking the asteroid Vesta. And finally, if you want to see one more last small object within the Solar System, keep an eye out on the evening of the 27th when Ceres will be passing past the Hyades and the Pleiades in Taurus. So thank you very much for joining us today, Paul. It's been absolutely fascinating to hear.
Paul If you want to find out even more spectacular sights that will be gracing the night sky this month, be sure to pick up a copy of BBC Sky at Night magazine, where we have a 16 page pull up sky guide with a full overview of everything worth looking out for in February 2022. Whether you like to look at the Moon, the planets or the deep sky, whether you use binoculars, telescopes only the Sky guide has got you covered with detail star charts to help you track your way across the night sky from all of us here at BBC Sky Night Magazine. Goodbye.