The night sky in February 2019

posted 25 Jan 2019, 10:11 by Pete Collins   [ updated 25 Jan 2019, 14:23 ]
by Anne Holt

Sunrise       1st:   07. 54       28th:  06.59
Sunset        1st:   16.51         28th:  17.44

Astronomical darkness  1st: 18.52 to 08.52      28th:  19.40 to 05.01

New Moon:   4th at 21.05     Full Moon:  19th at 05.07

Lunar apogee:    5th at 09.28    (406555km)
Lunar perigee:   19th at 05.07   (356761km)
This is the closest perigee of the year and, as it is less than 4 hours before the full Moon, we have a Supermoon.  There won't be another one as good for almost 10 years.
February's full Moon is known as the Snow Moon for obvious reasons.  Other names are the Hunger Moon, because hunting was not easy, or very successful, at this time, and the Storm Moon.

The Moon is at perihelion on 3rd at 09.24

There are some bright early evening passes of the International Space Station for the first week of the month, then the ISS returns to the pre-dawn sky near the end of the month.

Highlights

Struggling to find any highlights this month.  We have no meteor showers, no bright comets, though there is one which, if it lives up to expectations, might be a target for astrophotographers.  Apart from that the best we can look forward to is the bright Supermoon, Venus still prominent in the morning sky, but getting much lower,  the later part of the month will be the best time this year to spot Mercury and we still have lots of astro darkness - 11 hours on 1st and 9 hrs 21 minutes on 28th.
The bad news is that it will probably be wet or cloudy on most of these nights.  As the old rhyme says ' February brings the rain, thaws the frozen lakes again.'

Constellations

Orion
and Taurus are now above the horizon as the sky darkens but start to set at around 2am at the start of February and soon after midnight by the end of the month. Gemini and Auriga are still prominent, remaining above the horizon until the early hours. Leo, the signpost constellation of Spring, is now high in the sky for most of the night and Bootes, with it's bright red star Arcturus is rising soon after 11, and around 9 at month end. In the early part of the evening the Plough is low in the North East standing on its 'handle', and Cassiopeia high in the North West as darkness falls. By month end, the Summer Triangle will have risen soon after 3am - summer already?  Someone better tell the weather.

Planets

Mercury:  in Capricorn, mag -1.5
Now an evening object but not visible early in the month.  On 1st its apparent separation from the Sun is only 2 degrees.  Its position improves during the month, on the  9th, when it moves into Aquarius, it is 7 degrees from the Sun, setting 30 minutes after it but still not easily seen.  By the 18th it may be visible for a short time in the evening sky, about 8 degrees above the South Western horizon shortly before 18.00.  On the following day there is a conjunction of Mercury and Neptune, with Mercury passing less than one degree North of the ice giant in the dusk sky. It moves into Pisces on 23rd, when it will have faded to mag 0.9 but should be visible 10 degrees above the Western horizon as the sky darkens. The later part of the month should be the best time this year to see the planet.  It reaches greatest Eastern elongation on 27th at 01.00, long after it has set,  but should be visible after Sunset, 18 degrees from the Sun and 11 degrees above the Western horizon.  It will be fainter at mag -0.4 but well positioned.  On 28th it sets at 19.28, over an hour and a half after the Sun.

Venus:  in Sagittarius, mag -4.3
Still very bright in the morning sky but now much lower at dawn. On 1st it rises at 05.08 and reaches 12 degrees in the South East before the sky brightens. It rises less than a minute later each day but Sunrise is getting earlier as the month progresses. By the last week in February it will be quite difficult to see, on 23rd it rises at 05.27 but is only 7 degrees above the horizon at dawn. On this day it passes 1.5 degrees North of dwarf planet Pluto in daylight at 08.31. They will be quite close together just before dawn, very low in the sky.  However DON'T use a telescope to try to spot them.  You should NEVER use any optical instruments on anything close to the Eastern or South Eastern horizon before Sunrise.  It's very easy to lose track of time, catching even the first few rays of the rising Sun is enough to cause permanent blindness. By 28th Venus rises 90 minutes before the Sun but only reaches 6 degrees as the sky brightens.  It might still be visible for a short while from a site with a very clear South Eastern horizon.

Mars:  in Pisces, mag 0.9
Still setting around 23.30 but becoming visible later as the days lengthen.  On 1st it will be at 43 degrees in the South as the sky darkens around 18.00.  On 10th the 6 day Moon passes 6 degrees South of the planet, the pair are closest at 16.20 while it is still light but will still be fairly close as the sky darkens.  From 10th to 15th Mars is within 2 degrees of Uranus, closest on 13th when they should be visible in the same binocular field of view, about 42 degrees above the South Western horizon at 18.00, with Mars to the North. At 20.07 the separation is just over 1 degree. It moves into Aries on 14th and by month end will have faded to mag 1.2, reaching 42 degrees at around 18.30 as daylight fades.

Jupiter: in Ophiuchus, mag -1.9
Its position in the morning sky continues to improve during February.  On 1st it rises at 04.39 and should be bright enough to be easily seen around 06.00.  It reaches 12 degrees in the South before the sky brightens. On 27th the 67% Moon passes 2 degrees 19 minutes North of the planet, in daylight at 14.19. They should be visible around 06.00 that day, separated by 5 degrees, with the Moon to the South East of Jupiter.  By 28th it will have brightened to mag -2.1, rising at 03.13 and reaching 13 degrees in the South by daybreak.

Saturn: in Sagittarius, mag 0.6
Very low in the morning sky so hardly visible this month. On 1st it is 2 degrees above the horizon as day breaks. It gets a little higher in the pre-dawn sky as the month goes on but still only gets to 6 degrees before the sky brightens at the end of February.

Uranus: in Pisces, mag 5.8
Still well placed, on 1st it is 45 degrees above the Southern horizon around 18.00 as the sky darkens, setting at 00.16.  On 6th it moves back into Aries, this time it stays there until March 14th 2025 - more than 6 years to cross such a small constellation. On 10th the Moon passes 6 degrees South of the planet, while it is close to Mars, in the early evening.  By 28th Uranus is much lower, only 30 degrees in the South West as the sky darkens, setting just before midnight. Still a good target for HPAG scopes,especially in the early part of the month - if only the clouds would stay away on a Thursday evening.

Neptune: in Aquarius, mag 8.0
Not easily seen throughout February. On 1st it is only 13 degrees above the horizon at dusk, setting at 19.54.  On 7th the Moon passes 5.5 degrees to the North East at around 18.00.  By 28th it will set at 18.13, only half an hour after the Sun and with an apparent separation of only 6 degrees.

Dwarf Planets

Ceres: in Scorpio, mag 8.8
The closest and brightest of the dwarf planets is quite low in the morning sky in February.  On 1st it rises at 02.45, reaching 20 degrees by dawn. It moves into Ophiuchus on 17th, when it rises at 02.07.  By 28th it will be marginally brighter at mag 8.6, rising at 01.07 but still only 20 degrees by dawn, as dawn is now so much earlier.

Pluto: in Sagittarius, mag 14.7
Too low in the morning sky to be a photographic target this month, as it never gets higher than 14 degrees above the horizon.

The rest of the dwarf planets are far out in the Kuiper Belt and are too faint to be seen even with the best amateur scopes, but may be targets for experienced astrophotographers with good equipment.

Eris: In Cetus, mag 18.8
A possible target in early February, on 1st it is 32 degrees in the South as the sky darkens and should be high enough in the sky for a couple of hours, setting at 22.56.  On 28th it is only 18 degrees at dusk, setting soon after 21.00.

Haumea: in Bootes, mag 17.4,
High in the sky after midnight.  On 1st it is 21 degrees above the Eastern horizon as the sky darkens, reaching 52 degrees in the South at 05.44. On 28th it reaches this altitude just before 5am.

Makemake: in Coma Berenices, Mag 17.1
Culminates at 04,32 on 1st, at 60 degrees in the South. On 28th it reaches the same altitude almost 2 hours earlier at 02.45.

For more details and exact positions of all Solar System bodies at any time, see
and for information on the major planets

Meteor Showers

Not a good month for meteor observers, in fact it's a very bad month unless you happen to be in the Southern Hemisphere where the alpha Centaurids peak on 8th, with a ZHR somewhere between 6 and 25.  For those of us in the more Northerly latitudes not only are there no major showers, there aren't any minor ones either.  The best we can expect is one or two from the Antihelion Source which this month has its radiant in the Southern part of Leo.
  

Comets

Again, nothing to get excited about - and there are no bright comets predicted for the whole of 2019.  But, with comets, you never know what will turn up so keep your fingers crossed.

46P/Wirtanen is still circumpolar, visible for most of the night, moving through Ursa Major but fading by about 0.1 magnitude each day.  On 1st it is at mag 9 but down to 11.7 by month end.

38P/Stephan-Oterma in Lynx, mag 10.7.  Also circumpolar and also fading - but not as rapidly as Wirtanen.  By month end it should be the brighter, albeit not by much, at mag 11.5.

C/2018Y1 (Iwamoto) looks like the best bet this month. It starts the month in Virgo, at mag 9, culminating 22 degrees above the Southern horizon at 04.32.  Moves into Leo on 9th, when it will be at mag 8 and higher - 39 degrees in the South at 02.25.  It should brighten further, it is predicted to be at mag 7.7 from 11th to 14th before starting to fade again. It moves into Cancer on 15th, when it culminates at 23.32 much higher at 61 degrees. For the rest of the month it continues to move North Westwards and to fade.  It's at mag 8.3 on 18th when it crosses into Gemini and 8.8 on 22nd when it goes into Auriga,  On 28th it will be down to mag 9.6, reaching 71 degrees in the South at 19,08, half an hour before astro darkness begins.

More info on comets of mag 14 or higher can be found on www.cometwatch.co.uk
And exact positions of the brighter ones are on the site mentioned previously
https://in-the-sky.org
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