Star Trak: February 2014

Jan. 29, 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- By the time morning twilight begins in February, Venus will dominate the sky. The brilliant white “morning star” will rise two hours before the sun early in the month and grow even more prominent as the month advances. It will reach greatest brightness on Feb. 15 before fading slightly by month’s end, when it will be 18 degrees high in the southeast a half hour before sunrise.

As the evening sky darkens at the start of the month, Mercury will appear low in the west-southwest, 11 degrees above the horizon for observers at mid-northern latitudes. Binoculars may be needed to find it in the glare of twilight, but it should be visible a half-hour after sunset at the start of the month. It will fade quickly after that, and by Feb. 7 it will be difficult to spot. On Feb. 15 it will pass between Earth and the sun into the morning sky.

As Mercury fades in the west, Jupiter will come into view two-thirds of the way up the eastern sky. The giant planet was at opposition in January, so it will still be visible for most of the night. It will be highest in the south around 10 p.m. local time at the beginning of the month and around 8 p.m. as the month ends.

Mars will rise around 11 p.m. as February begins and around 9:30 p.m. by month’s end. It will be highest about an hour before dawn. The Red Planet will brighten rapidly during the month, becoming noticeably brighter than the orange star Arcturus far to its upper left (east) and twice as bright as the blue-white star Spica a few degrees to its lower right (west). Mars will reach opposition in April, when it will appear brighter than it has since 2007.

As Jupiter is dropping low in the west, Saturn will appear above the eastern horizon. The yellow-orange object will be visible by 1:30 a.m. at the beginning of February and before midnight by month's end. It will be highest in the south during morning twilight, the best time for viewing it with a telescope. Saturn’s spectacular rings will be tilted almost 23 degrees to our line of sight.

Saturn's largest moon, the planet-sized Titan, can be seen with any telescope on a clear night. Titan will be south of Saturn on Feb. 2-3 and 18-19 and north of the planet on Feb. 11 and 27. The latest news and images from the Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn are available online.

Moon phases

The moon will be at first quarter on Feb. 6, full on Feb. 14 and at third quarter on Feb. 22.