February Observing Highlights
The two largest gas giant planets are the notable targets for February, which is great news for telescope owners. While Venus is gorgeous to gaze at, it’s not as intriguing through a telescope. Jupiter and Saturn, however, reveal much more of themselves through the eyepiece. Track storms in their cloud tops, gaze at Saturn’s rings and look for shadows that they cast on the planet and vice versa, and follow Jupiter’s largest moons as they trace alternating patterns around it.
Jupiter shines brightly after sunset, in the west-southwest on February 1. The planet is still close to Uranus, which lies to its lower right. The planets will slowly separate as the month wears on, with Jupiter rising slightly higher into Pisces. A few hours after sunset, Jupiter will sink below the horizon, clearing the stage for Saturn to rise in the late evening in the east. Saturn is positioned in Virgo, just above the star Spica. Saturn is brighter than Spica and has a bit of a yellowish hue.
The crescent moon appears near Jupiter on the evening of February 6. On February 18, the moon reaches full phase at 12:36 a.m. PST. A waning moon passes Saturn late in the evening on February 20.
Learn more with the Night Sky Observing Guide for February 2011.
-- Kelly Kizer Whitt loves clean, clear, and dark skies. Kelly studied English and Astronomy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and worked for Astronomy magazine. She is currently the Feature Writer for Astronomy and Space at Suite101.com. You can follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/Astronomommy.