Night Sky, February 2019: What You Can See This Month [Maps]

The night sky tonight and on any clear night offers an ever-changing display of fascinating objects you can see, from stars and constellations to bright planets, often the moon, and sometimes special events like meteor showers. Observing the night sky can be done with no special equipment, although a sky map can be very useful, and a good beginner telescope or binoculars will enhance some experiences and bring some otherwise invisible objects into view. You can also use astronomy accessories to make your observing easier, and use our Satellite Tracker page powered by N2YO.com to find out when to see the International Space Station and other satellites. Below, find out what's up in the night sky tonight (Planets Visible Now, Moon Phases, Observing Highlights This Month) plus other resources (Skywatching Terms, Night Sky Observing Tips and Further Reading).

The night sky is more than just the moon and stars, if you know when and where to look.
(Image: © Karl Tate/SPACE.com)

Monthly skywatching information is provided to Space.com by Chris Vaughan of Starry Night Education, the leader in space science curriculum solutions. Follow Starry Night on Twitter @StarryNightEdu.

Editor's note: If you have an amazing skywatching photo you'd like to share for a possible story or image gallery, you can send images and comments in to spacephotos@futurenet.com.

Yearly Night Sky Guides:

When, Where and How to See the Planets in the 2019 Night Sky

The Top Skywatching Events to Look for in 2019

Best Night Sky Events of February's 2019 (Stargazing Maps) 

Calendar of Observing Highlights

Saturday, February 2 pre-dawn – Old Moon Meets Saturn

In the southeastern sky before dawn on Saturday, February 2, the waning crescent moon will appear less than 3 degrees to the lower left of Saturn. Hours earlier, centered on 19:50 GMT, skywatchers in northern and northeastern Africa, southern and central Europe, Middle East, western Asia, and parts of Southern Russia can see the moon's orbital motion (green line) carry it across the ringed planet.

Sunday, February 3 pre-dawn — Venus Moves through the Milky Way

In the southeastern pre-dawn sky from February 3 to February 11, Venus's orbit will take it through the Milky Way and close to some well-known deep sky objects, setting up nice pairings in binoculars (orange circle) or telescopes at low magnification. On Sunday, February 3, the planet will pass 2 degrees to the lower right (south) of the open star cluster designated Messier 23. On Monday, February 4, Venus will pass 2 degrees above (north of) the Trifid Nebula (Messier 20) and the Messier 21 open cluster.

Monday, February 4 at 4:03 p.m. EST — New Moon

At its new phase, the moon is travelling between the Earth and the sun. Since sunlight is only reaching the side of the moon aimed away from us, and the moon is in the same region of the sky as the sun, the moon is hidden from view for up to a day.

Thursday, February 7 pre-dawn — Venus Meets More Deep Sky Objects

In the southeastern pre-dawn sky from February 3 to February 11, Venus's orbit will take it through the Milky Way and close to some well-known deep sky objects, setting up nice pairings in binoculars (orange circle) or telescopes at low magnification. On Thursday, February 7, Venus will pass 2 degrees to the lower right of (below) the Sagittarius Star Cloud (Messier 24). On Monday, February 11, the planet will cross between the open cluster designated Messier 22 and the globular cluster designated Messier 25.

Sunday, February 10 evening — Young Moon Passes Mars and Uranus

In the western evening sky on Sunday, February 10, the waxing crescent moon will pass approximately 5 degrees to the south (or lower left) of Mars and Uranus. Reddish Mars will be visible to the naked eye, but much more distant Uranus, which will be sitting 1.6 degrees to Mars' upper left, will require binoculars or a telescope.

Monday, February 11 evening — Moon Occults a Star (most of N America)

On Monday evening, February 11, the orbital path (green line) of the moon will generate an occultation of the naked-eye star Mu Ceti. The event will be visible for North American skywatchers at latitudes north of 34 degrees, although the sky will not be fully dark for viewers in the west. In the Great Lakes region, the dark leading edge of the moon will cover the star at about 8:24 p.m. Eastern Time. The star will pop out from the opposite, bright edge of the moon about an hour later. Timings vary with latitude, so find the star near the moon well ahead of time and watch their separation shrink. Exact times for your location can be obtained from Starry Night and other planetarium software.

Tuesday, February 12 at 5:26 p.m. EST — First Quarter Moon

At first quarter, the relative positions of the Earth, sun, and moon cause us to see the moon half illuminated - on the western (right-hand) side. Sunlight striking the moon at a shallow angle produces spectacularly illuminated landscapes along the terminator that separates the lit and dark hemispheres. First quarter moons rise around noon and set around midnight, so they are visible starting in the afternoon hours. The term quarter moon refers not to its appearance, but the fact that our natural satellite has now completed the first quarter of its orbit around Earth since the last new moon.

Tuesday, February 12 evening — Mars Passes Uranus

On the evenings surrounding Tuesday, February 12, Mars' faster eastward orbital motion (brown line) will carry it closely past Uranus, which will be more than 12 times farther away from Earth. Their smallest separation of only 1 degree (a finger's width) will happen on Tuesday evening, when the red and blue planets will appear together in the eyepiece of a backyard telescope at low magnification (orange circle). While much brighter Mars will be north (to the upper right) of Uranus, your telescope might flip the view. (Use the nearby moon to test how your telescope alters the view.)

Wednesday, February 13 evening — Moon Crosses the Bull

On the evening of Wednesday, February 13, the waxing gibbous moon's orbit (green line) will carry it directly through the triangular grouping of stars that make up the face of Taurus, the bull. In late evening, the moon will pass within a finger's width of the bright reddish star Aldebaran, which marks the bull's southerly eye.

Sunday, February 17 evening — Moon Buzzes the Beehive

High in the southeastern sky on the evening of Sunday, February 17, the nearly full moon will skim the southerly (lower) edge of the large open star cluster known as The Beehive (or Messier 44) in the constellation of Cancer. The moon and the cluster will both fit within the field of view of binoculars (orange circle) or a low magnification telescope, but the moon's brilliance will mostly overwhelm the clusters' stars. These encounters occur frequently because the cluster holds a position only a degree north of the ecliptic (green line). 

Monday, February 18 pre-dawn — Pretty Venus Passes Saturn

A pretty celestial sight occurs on the pre-dawn mornings surrounding Monday, February 18, when skywatchers will see rapidly descending Venus pass very close to distant Saturn. At closest approach on February 18, extremely bright, white Venus will be located 1 degree (a finger's width) to the upper left of dimmer, yellowish Saturn – placing both planets within the field of view of a backyard telescope. At that time, Venus will exhibit a waxing gibbous (more than half illuminated) disk. For best results, look for the duo low in the southeastern sky between 6 and 7 a.m. local time.

Tuesday, February 19 at 10:53 a.m. EST — Full Snow Supermoon

The February full moon, known as the Snow Moon or Hunger Moon, always shines in or near the stars of Leo. Full moons rise around sunset and set around sunrise, and the position of the ecliptic on winter nights causes February moons to culminate very high in the night sky. This full moon occurs only 7 hours after perigee, the point in the moon's orbit when it is closest to Earth, making it the largest and brightest full moon, or supermoon, of 2019, and generating high tides globally.

Thursday, February 21 to Wednesday, March 6, after evening twilight — Zodiacal light

For about half an hour after dusk during the two week period preceding the new moon on March 6, look west-southwest for a broad wedge of faint light rising from the horizon and centered on the ecliptic (green line). This is the zodiacal light - reflected sunlight from interplanetary particles of matter concentrated in the plane of the solar system. Try to observe from a location without light pollution, and don't confuse the zodiacal light with the brighter Milky Way to the northwest.

Tuesday, February 26 at 6:28 a.m. EST — Last Quarter Moon

At its last quarter phase, the moon rises around midnight and remains visible in the southern sky during morning daylight. At this time, the moon is illuminated on the eastern side, towards the pre-dawn sun. Last quarter moons are positioned ahead of the Earth in our trip around the sun. About 3½ hours later, earth will occupy that same location in space. After this phase, the waning moon will traverse the last quarter of its orbit around the earth, on the way to new moon.

Tuesday, February 26 evening — Mercury at Greatest Eastern Elongation

On the evening of Tuesday, February 26, Mercury (orbit shown as red curve) will reach its widest separation, 18 degrees east of the Sun. With Mercury sitting above a nearly vertical evening ecliptic, this will be the best appearance of the planet in 2019 for Northern Hemisphere observers. The optimal viewing times fall between 6:15 and 7:15 p.m. local time. Viewed in a telescope (inset) the planet will exhibit a waning half-illuminated phase.

Wednesday, February 27 pre-dawn — Waning Moon meets Jupiter

In the southeastern pre-dawn sky on Wednesday, February 27, the waning last quarter moon will sit 2 degrees to the upper right of the very bright planet Jupiter. Both objects will fit into the field of view of binoculars and telescopes at low magnification (orange circle). Observers in western North America and the Pacific region will see the moon when it is closer to Jupiter. Saturn and Venus will be visible approximately 30 degrees (three fist diameters) to their lower left.

Planets

Mercury will re-appear in the western evening sky after February 11. It will brighten and grow in apparent disk diameter while it climbs higher, swinging away from the sun until it reaches greatest elongation east on February 26. With Mercury sitting above a nearly vertical evening ecliptic during the last week of February, this will be the best appearance of the planet in 2019 for Northern Hemisphere observers, with the optimal viewing times between 6:15 and 7:15 p.m. local time.

Venus will spend February in the east-southeastern pre-dawn sky, swinging eastward towards the sun. During the month, the planet will slowly decrease in brightness and apparent disk size while its illuminated phase grows slightly. From February 3 to February 11, Venus's orbit will take it through the Milky Way and close to some well-known deep sky objects, setting up nice pairings in binoculars or telescopes at low magnification. On Sunday, February 3, the planet will pass 2 degrees to the lower right (south) of the open star cluster designated Messier 23. On Monday, February 4, Venus will pass 2 degrees above (north of) the Trifid Nebula (Messier 20) and the Messier 21 open cluster. On Thursday, February 7, Venus will pass 2 degrees to the lower right of (below) the Sagittarius Star Cloud (Messier 24). On Monday, February 11, the planet will cross between the open cluster designated Messier 22 and the globular cluster designated Messier 25. On February 18, extremely bright, white Venus will be located 1 degree above, and slightly to the left of, dimmer, yellowish Saturn – placing both planets within the field of view of a backyard telescope. 

Mars will spend February well-positioned for observing in the southwestern evening sky. Its eastern orbital motion against the western migration of the stars will keep it setting in the west soon after 11 p.m. local time all month long. The red planet will complete its passage through southeastern Pisces on February 12, and then spend the rest of the month crossing Aries. Visually, Mars will decrease in brightness from magnitude 0.89 to 1.19 and shrink in apparent disk size from 6 to 5.5 arc-seconds, all due to our ever-increasing distance from it. On February 10, the waxing crescent moon will pass approximately 5 degrees to the south (or lower left) of Mars and Uranus. On February 11, much brighter Mars will pass only 1 degree to the north of dim, distant Uranus. The red and blue planets will appear together in the eyepiece of a backyard telescope at low magnification.

Very bright Jupiter will shine in the eastern pre-dawn sky during February, slowly climbing away from the sun while moving eastward through southern Ophiuchus. By month end, it will be rising at around 2:30 a.m. local time, but it won't rise before midnight until late April. Jupiter will grow slightly brighter and larger in telescopes as Earth slowly draws closer to it ahead of this spring's opposition. On February 27, the waning last quarter moon will sit 2 degrees to the upper right of Jupiter. Both objects will fit into the field of view of binoculars and telescopes at low magnification.

Saturn will be observable in the southeastern pre-dawn sky during February, although it will become easier to see later in the month. It will appear as a yellowish, visual magnitude 0.6 object moving eastward through the stars of Sagittarius while it climbs farther from the sun. On, February 2, the waning crescent moon will appear less than 3 degrees to the lower left of Saturn. Hours earlier, centered on 19:50 GMT, skywatchers in northern and northeastern Africa, southern and central Europe, Middle East, western Asia, and parts of Southern Russia can see the moon occult the ringed planet. Then mornings surrounding February 18 will see rapidly descending Venus pass very close to Saturn. At closest approach extremely bright, white Venus will be located 1 degree above, and slightly to the left of, dimmer, yellowish Saturn – placing both planets within the field of view of a backyard telescope.

During February, blue-green Uranus will available for observing in the southwestern early evening sky. At visual magnitude 5.8, Uranus is bright enough to observe in binoculars under dark sky conditions. On February 5, it will move from Pisces into southwestern Aries. On the evenings surrounding February 12, Mars' faster eastward orbital motion will carry it close past Uranus on the northern (higher) side. At their smallest separation of only 1 degree, the red and blue planets will appear together in the eyepiece of a backyard telescope at low magnification.

Blue-tinted Neptune will spend February located about 3 degrees east of the star Lambda Aquarii in Aquarius. With a visual magnitude of 8.0, the distant planet will only be observable with telescopes during early evening for about the first two weeks of February. After that, it will rapidly descend into the western twilight.

Skywatching Terms

Gibbous: Used to describe a planet or moon that is more than 50 percent illuminated.

Asterism: A noteworthy or striking pattern of stars within a larger constellation.

Degrees (measuring the sky): The sky is 360 degrees all the way around, which means roughly 180 degrees from horizon to horizon. It's easy to measure distances between objects: Your fist on an outstretched arm covers about 10 degrees of sky, while a finger covers about one degree.

Visual Magnitude: This is the astronomer's scale for measuring the brightness of objects in the sky. The dimmest object visible in the night sky under perfectly dark conditions is about magnitude 6.5. Brighter stars are magnitude 2 or 1. The brightest objects get negative numbers. Venus can be as bright as magnitude minus 4.9. The full moon is minus 12.7 and the sun is minus 26.8.

Terminator: The boundary on the moon between sunlight and shadow.

Zenith: The point in the sky directly overhead.

Night Sky Observing Tips

  • Adjust to the dark: If you wish to observe faint objects, such as meteors or dim stars, give your eyes at least 15 minutes to adjust to the darkness.
  • Light Pollution: Even from a big city, one can see the moon, a handful of bright stars and sometimes the brightest planets. But to fully enjoy the heavens — especially a meteor shower, the constellations, or to see the amazing swath across the sky that represents our view toward the center of the Milky Way Galaxy — rural areas are best for night sky viewing. If you're stuck in a city or suburban area, a building can be used to block ambient light (or moonlight) to help reveal fainter objects. If you're in the suburbs, simply turning off outdoor lights can help.
  • Prepare for skywatching: If you plan to be out for more than a few minutes, and it's not a warm summer evening, dress warmer than you think necessary. An hour of observing a winter meteor shower can chill you to the bone. A blanket or lounge chair will prove much more comfortable than standing or sitting in a chair and craning your neck to see overhead.
  • Daytime skywatching: When Venus is visible (that is, not in front of or behind the sun) it can often be spotted during the day. But you'll need to know where to look. A sky map is helpful. When the sun has large sunspots, they can be seen without a telescope. However, it's unsafe to look at the sun without protective eyewear. See our video on how to safely observe the sun, or our safe sunwatching infographic.

Further Reading

Moon Phases: How the lunar cycle works, from full moon to new moon. Also find out when is the next full moon.

Constellations: The history of the Zodiac constellations and their place in night sky observing.

Lunar Eclipses: How they work, plus find out when's the next lunar eclipse.

Solar Eclipses: How they work, the types, and when the next one occurs.

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