In the Sky This Month — February 2018
Clear February nights present some great stargazing opportunities. Be sure to bundle up and keep warm while you get outside for some stargazing fun!
Here are a few of Orion's top picks for February stargazing:
Great Binocular Cluster
Get out your 50mm or larger astronomy binoculars for great views of the Pleiades star cluster (M45), which will be high in the northwestern sky during February. While M45 can be seen with unaided eyes from a rural location with dark skies, the open star cluster is a much more spectacular sight in binoculars or you can use a low-power, wide-field eyepiece in any size telescope.
Our Favorite Nebula
Throughout February, our namesake constellation Orion will be in a great viewing position for backyard stargazers. Use 50mm or larger binoculars and look in the area below the three recognizable stars of Orion's belt for a great view of M42, the Orion Nebula. For a more detailed view of this stellar nursery, you can use any size telescope, but we recommend a 6" or larger reflector for an immersive experience. If you'll be observing from the city, use an Orion UltraBlock Narrowband Filter to combat light pollution and boost contrast.
Solar System Line-Up
It's worth waking up about an hour before dawn on February 11th to see bright planets Saturn, Mars and Jupiter line up with the waning crescent Moon before sunrise. Look above the south/southeast horizon to see Saturn to the east of the Moon, and glimpse Mars and Jupiter to the west.
Winter Star Clusters
Look east of constellation Canis Major's brightest star Sirius with a telescope to see two beautiful star clusters, M46 and M47 in the constellation Puppis. For more star cluster observations in February, look in the constellation Auriga to go after sparkling clusters M36, M37 & M38, or M35 in the constellation Gemini.
The New Moon of February 15th promises dark skies for a great, albeit chilly, opportunity to get clear views of the winter Milky Way and various deep space objects in larger telescopes. The nights leading up to and following the 15th will also be nice and dark for stargazing.
In late February, bright galaxies M81 & M82 will be about as high in the sky as they will get for North American stargazers. From a dark sky site, these galaxies are visible with a 50mm or larger [binocular], but we suggest you use a large telescope to chase these galaxies down just off the leading edge of the Big Dipper asterism. Many observers consider M81 & M82 the best pairing of visual galaxies in the sky!
In the constellation Monoceros lies the 9th magnitude Hubble's Variable Nebula (NGC 2261), named after the astronomer Edwin Hubble (yes, the same as the Hubble Telescope). While small, this distant reflection nebula is bright enough to be picked out as a pin point of light with 70mm binoculars. As the name implies, it does vary in size and brightness since its glow is "powered" by a variable star buried within its nebulosity.
All objects described above can easily be seen with the suggested equipment from a dark sky site, a viewing location some distance away from city lights where light pollution and when bright moonlight does not overpower the stars.