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.
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In the Sky This Month
February 12: 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 13: 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 14: 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 15: 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 16: 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.
February 17: Puppis
The constellation Puppis scoots low across the south on winter evenings. It is below Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky. Puppis represents the deck at the back of the Argo, the ship that carried Jason and the Argonauts.
February 18: New Names
Cancer, the crab, spreads out to the lower left of the Moon this evening. One of its highlights is 55 Cancri, a star system with five known planets. Last year, astronomers gave the planets formal names: Galileo, Lipperhey, Brahe, Janssen, and Harriot.