Stargazing Information

All five of the planets that are easily visible to the unaided eye put in good appearances this month. Venus reigns as the brilliant Morning Star, while slightly fainter Jupiter sparkles from late evening until dawn. Mars inches farther from the Sun in the morning sky, as does golden Saturn. Mercury does double duty: It is low in the southwestern evening sky as the month begins, then climbs low into the southeast at dawn by month’s end.

This Week's Stargazing Tips

February 11: Brightest Stars

Look well up in the south around 9 or 10 p.m. for Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky. From latitudes south of about Los Angeles, the second-brightest star, Canopus, twinkles below Sirius, quite low above the southern horizon.

February 12: Rigel

Rigel, the brightest star of Orion, marks the hunter’s foot. It is to the lower right of Orion’s Belt early this evening. Rigel is a supergiant, so it is much bigger and heavier than the Sun. It also is thousands of degrees hotter, so it shines blue-white.

February 13: Horsehead Nebula

The Horsehead Nebula stands close to the star at the left end of Orion’s Belt. The nebula forms the silhouette of a horse’s head against a faintly glowing background — a spray of hydrogen gas energized by radiation from another bright star.

February 14: Moon and Taurus

The constellation Taurus spreads out above and to the left of the Moon this evening. The Moon will pass close to the bull’s brightest star, Aldebaran, tomorrow night.

February 15: Moon and Aldebaran

The Moon glides up on the bright eye of the bull tonight. Aldebaran is close to the left of the Moon as night falls. Later, the gap between them will close as the Moon moves toward the bright star. And as seen from California and Hawaii, the Moon will pass in front of Aldebaran, blocking it from view.

February 16: Leo Rising

Leo, the lion, moves higher into the evening sky in February. Regulus, its brightest star, rises shortly before sunset and remains visible throughout the night. Leo soars high across the sky, standing almost directly overhead around midnight.

February 17: Double Cluster

Just above the W-shaped constellation Cassiopeia, toward neighboring Perseus, look for a faint smudge of light. Binoculars reveal dozens of individual stars packed into two clusters. Together, they are known as the Double Cluster.

Check last week's tips if you missed a day.


©2015 The University of Texas McDonald Observatory