February New Moon 2019: Catch Saturn, Mars & More in the 'Moonless' Night Sky

The new moon occurs Feb. 4, at 4:04 p.m. EST (2104 GMT), two days after our satellite makes a close pass by Saturn and a day before it reaches apogee, the farthest point in its orbit from Earth. 

A new moon is a lunar phase that occurs about every 29.5 days. At that time, the moon is between the Earth and sun and the two bodies share the same celestial longitude — a projection of the Earth's own longitude lines on the celestial sphere. This alignment is also called a conjunction. 

Because the side of the moon that is illuminated by sunlight is facing away from us at the new moon, it is generally not visible from Earth unless the moon passes in front of the sun, which happens during eclipses. Sometimes, the moon is faintly visible just a couple of days before or after it is new, due to a phenomenon called "earthshine," which happens when sunlight reflected off Earth's surface casts a dim light onto the moon. [10 Surprising Lunar Facts]

Saturn snuggles up to the moon

On Feb. 2 at 2:18 a.m. EST (0718 GMT), the moon will enter conjunction with Saturn, and the two celestial objects will make a close approach in the night sky. From New York City, Saturn will rise first, at 5:33 a.m. local time and the moon will follow 6 minutes later, according to heavens-above.com calculations. At 27 days old, the moon will be a thin crescent with the "horns" facing west. 

Sunrise in New York City that day will be at 7:05 a.m., and civil twilight — when the sun is about 6 degrees below the horizon — will begin at 6:36 a.m., according to timeanddate.com. At that time, both the moon and Saturn will be about 10 degrees above the horizon, and only a bit more than one lunar diameter apart; the actual separation will be about three-fifths of a degree. 

Moving southward makes observing the conjunction easier. From Miami, Florida, the pair will rise at 5:43 a.m. and will reach an altitude of 16 degrees by 6:46 a.m., when dawn breaks, according to the observing site in-the-sky.org. From Quito, Ecuador, the altitude will be 22 degrees at dawn, which will be at 6:07 local time. 

Visible planets and constellations

On the night of the new moon itself, observers in midnorthern latitudes will see the classic winter constellations of Orion, Taurus, Gemini and Canis Major for most of the night. All of these constellations will be above the horizon by 7 p.m. local time. Orion's distinctive belt of three stars — Alnilam, Alnitak and Mintaka — will be at an altitude of about 40 degrees in the south-southeast, while Sirius, the brightest star in the sky, will be about 21 degrees high. Looking just to the east and south of Orion (to the right and upward in the northern hemisphere), one can spy Aldebaran, which marks the "head" of Taurus the bull, and looking to the north and west, one will see the stars Castor and Pollux, in the constellation Gemini. 

As for planets, Venus will continue to be a morning star in February, rising over New York City at 4:17 a.m. on Feb. 4, according to heavens-above.com. Mars will rise later that morning and be visible for a few hours after sunset before slipping below the horizon at 10:55 p.m. local time. At about 7 p.m. on Feb. 4, the Red Planet will be at an altitude of 37 degrees above the western horizon in the constellation Pisces. Pisces is a relatively faint constellation, so from city locations, Mars' brightness, combined with its distinctive red hue, will make it easy to spot. 

From dark-sky locations, observers with a pair of binoculars or a small telescope can spot the planet Uranus, which, at magnitude 5.8, is near the limit for the naked eye. Uranus will be in Pisces near Mars. 

Saturn will be in conjunction with the moon on Feb. 2 at 2:18 a.m. EST (0718 GMT). While the pair will be below the horizon at that time for skywatchers in New York City, they will still appear close together in the sky for about an hour before sunrise. This sky map shows where New Yorkers can see Saturn, Venus and Jupiter in the early-morning sky.
(Image: © SkySafari app)

On Feb. 5, at 4:26 p.m. EST (0926 GMT), when the moon is one day old, it will reach apogee, which is the farthest point in its orbit from Earth. At apogee, the moon will be 252,621 miles (406,555 kilometers) from Earth, according to heavens-above.com. The moon isn't always the same distance from Earth because its orbit isn't a perfect circle; it's an ellipse. The average distance between the moon and Earth is about 384,400 km (238,855 miles). 

In the Southern Hemisphere, it's still summer, so the sun doesn't set until about 8 p.m. in the middle latitudes. In Buenos Aires, Argentina, for example, sunset on Feb. 4 will be at about 7:57 p.m. local time. By 9:30 p.m., when it is fully dark, the Southern Cross will be rising in the east, and nearby one will be able to spot Alpha Centauri, our nearest stellar neighbor. 

Higher in the sky, one can see the three constellations that make up Argo, the ship: Puppis the deck, Vela the sail and Carina the keel. Canopus is the brightest star in Carina and is known for being one of the most luminous stars in the solar neighborhood; at 310 light-years away, it is magnitude -0.76, making it some 10,000 times as bright as the sun, according to observations by the European Southern Observatory

Editor's note: If you have an amazing night sky photo or video that you'd like to share for a possible story or image gallery, please contact managing editor Tariq Malik atspacephotos@space.com.

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