The moon begins February as a thin sliver, waxing toward new phase. On the 2nd, Saturn and Pluto both are occulted – the ringed planet at 7 a.m. (the first in a monthly occurrence until November) and Pluto at 10 p.m. (UT for both). Unfortunately for North American viewers, neither event presents good prospects. Saturn should be easy to spot close by the thin moon, but Pluto is tough to locate at the best of times – only by comparing its movement over a period of nights is it possible to differentiate from background stars. On the 6th, Vesta is occulted for parts of western Russia, otherwise a very close conjunction for the rest of the world. Then in succession, Neptune on the 7th, Mars and Uranus on the 10th, Aldebaran on the 13th, the Beehive Cluster on the 17th, all have a close brush with the moon. Full phase is on the 19th. On the 27th, Jupiter is 2 degrees south of the Moon.
Mercury emerges from behind the ssn around the 11th, and gradually diminishes in brightness as it approaches Earth and its phase angle decreases. Reaches greatest eastern elongation 18 degrees from the sun on the 27th. The best western-evening apparition of the year for Northern Hemisphere observers.
Venus is visible low in the southeastern morning sky before sunrise. Now in the gibbous phase until late June, with the Southern Hemisphere favoured for the most part. Watch for a close brush with Saturn on the 18th.
Mars, the Red Planet, remains high in the early evening sky for Northern Hemisphere observers, passing from Aries into Taurus in mid-month. It passes 1 degree north of Uranus on the 13th.
Jupiter is in the morning sky in Ophiuchus where it will spend most of 2019. The waning crescent moon passes 2 degrees to its north on the 27th.
Saturn continues to emerge in the eastern dawn sky, the brightest object among the stars of central Sagittarius, where it will spend all of 2019. The Ringed Planet has a close pass by the waning crescent moon on the 2nd. Passes 1 degree south of Venus on the 18th.
Uranus is in the evening sky but setting before midnight. The blue-green planet passes from Pisces into Aries early in the month, where it will remain for the rest of 2019. It is in conjunction with Mars on the 13th.
Neptune begins the month just 30 degrees from the sun and closing fast toward its March 7 conjunction.
The zodiacal light is visible in northern latitudes in the west after evening twilight for the last two weeks of February.
James Edgar has had an interest in the night sky all his life. He joined The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada in 2000, was National President for two terms, is now the Editor of the renowned Observer’s Handbook, and Production Manager of the bi-monthly RASC Journal. The IAU named asteroid 1995 XC5 “(22421) Jamesedgar” in his honour.