February sees two planets succumb to the glare of the sun. Mercury disappears into the bright dawn twilight after only a few days in February have elapsed, while Saturn disappears into the sunset fires by the end of the second week of the month. They both arrive at conjunction with the sun on the same day, Feb. 28, albeit going in opposite directions, with Mercury transitioning to the evening sky, while Saturn moves to the morning sky.
Also noticeably losing ground this month is brilliant Venus, which is dropping closer to the sun and rising a little later each morning. You'll have to wait until about an hour before sunup to catch a glimpse of her, very low near the southeast horizon by month's end. Yet, because of its superior brilliance we'll be able to use Venus as a benchmark to locate the feeble yellow-orange light of Mars on Feb. 22, when the two planets will be separated by just over a full moon's width. You'll probably need binoculars to sight Mars against the bright glow of twilight.
Finally, Jupiter dominates the southwest sky for much of the evening hours, before it drops out of sight beyond the western horizon by the middle of the night.
In our schedule, remember that when measuring the angular separation between two celestial objects, your clenched fist held at arm's length measures roughly 10 degrees. Here, we present a schedule below which provides some of the best planet viewing times as well directing you as to where to look to see them.
Be sure to check out our best telescopes for viewing planets guide and our more general guides for the best binoculars and the best telescopes. If you're interested in taking your own impressive skywatching images, we have recommendations for the best cameras for astrophotography and the best lenses for astrophotography.
Mercury — Coming off a fine morning apparition in January, Mercury rises only about 45 minutes before the sun on Feb. 1 (for viewers around 40-degrees north before being completely lost in the dawn glow a few dawns later. On Feb. 28, this speedy little planet is at superior conjunction and transitions into the evening sky.
Venus — Venus is nearing the end of a long morning apparition, rising before morning twilight at the beginning of February but only an hour before sunrise at the end. The angle of the ecliptic with respect to the eastern horizon is shallow at dawn this time of year for observers at mid-northern latitudes, so Venus is especially low. Even so, it's bright shining at magnitude -4. Telescopes reveal its tiny gibbous phase nearly 90% illuminated. On the morning of Feb. 7, about 45 minutes before sunrise, look very low above the southeast horizon for a waning crescent moon, 9% illuminated, sitting well down and to Venus' right.
Mars — Shining at a modestly bright magnitude of +1.3, Mars rises just after dawn begins all winter and much of the spring. It is not yet a naked-eye object for mid-northerners, and its low altitude in a brightening sky makes it something of a challenging object even for binocular observers. But on the morning of Feb. 22, you can use Venus as a benchmark, as it will be passing only 0.6 degrees to Mars' upper left, though outshining the Red Planet by a factor of 120 to 1.
Jupiter — The king of the planets floats high in the southwest sky at nightfall as February opens and sets around 12:20 a.m. local standard time. By the end of the month, it will be noticeably lower as darkness descends and will be setting about 90 minutes earlier. On Valentine's Day evening (Feb. 14), look high toward the southwest at dusk to see a wide waxing crescent moon, accompanied about 5 degrees to its upper left by brilliant Jupiter.
Saturn — Saturn can be spotted very low in the west-southwest for the first week or so of February, but it's heading down into the glow of sunset and becomes invisible by later in the month. How long can you follow it with binoculars? The evening of Feb. 11 might be your last view of it, but it will be a challenge. About 40 minutes after sunset, look low in the west-southwest sky for the slender sliver of a waxing crescent moon, just two days past new and 6% illuminated; against the twilight sky it will appear like the iconic grin of the fictional Cheshire Cat.
Once sighted, use binoculars and scan that part of the sky about a dozen degrees to the lower right of the moon and try to get a last glimpse of Saturn. The ringed planet is too low even right after sunset to appear very sharp in telescopes. But this last evening view sets the stage for Saturn's dawn reemergence and the amazing narrowing of the rings to edgewise in 2025. On Feb. 28 — the same day that Mercury arrives at solar conjunction, so will Saturn.
Editor's Note: If you get a great photo of any of the planets and would like to share it with Space.com's readers, send your photo(s), comments, and your name and location to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Joe Rao is Space.com's skywatching columnist, as well as a veteran meteorologist and eclipse chaser who also serves as an instructor and guest lecturer at New York's Hayden Planetarium. He writes about astronomy for Natural History magazine, the Farmers' Almanac and other publications. Joe is an 8-time Emmy-nominated meteorologist who served the Putnam Valley region of New York for over 21 years. You can find him on Twitter and YouTube tracking lunar and solar eclipses, meteor showers and more. To find out Joe's latest project, visit him on Twitter.
Good to see in the report Starry Night used for some charts. I use and enjoy very much in my stargazing as well as planet observations and asteroid tracking like 4 Vesta in Cetus now, moving retrograde. In my observation log (MS ACCESS DB), I load up views of the sky from Starry Night into my log entry along with various ephemeris generated that I import into Excel - works very well.Reply