THE SOLAR SYSTEM IN FEBRUARY 2017
Dates and times shown are NZDT (UT + 13 hours).
Rise and set times are for Wellington. They will vary by a few minutes elsewhere in NZ.
SUNRISE, SUNSET and TWILIGHT TIMES in February
February 1 NZDT February 31 NZDT
morning evening morning evening
SUN: rise: 6.24am, set: 8.43pm rise: 6.58am, set: 8.07pm
Civil: starts: 5.56am, ends: 9.12pm starts: 6.32am, ends: 8.34pm
Nautical: starts: 5.18am, ends: 9.50pm starts: 5.58am, ends: 9.08pm
Astro: starts: 4.36am, ends:10.32pm starts: 5.23am, ends: 9.43pm
FEBRUARY PHASES OF THE MOON (times as shown by GUIDE)
First quarter: February 4 at 5.19 pm (04:19 UT)
Full moon: February 11 at 1.33 pm (00:33 UT)
Last quarter February 19 at 8.33 am (Feb 18, 19:33 UT)
New moon: February 27 at 3.59 am (Feb 26, 14:59 UT)
Neither the penumbral eclipse of the Moon on February 11 nor the annular eclipse of the Sun on the 26th, are visible from New Zealand. Further details of both eclipses can be found on the RASNZ web page, .
THE PLANETS in FEBRUARY 2017
Venus remains the obvious bright planet in the evening sky but gets considerably lower, setting earlier, during the month. Mars, much fainter, is only a few degrees higher. Jupiter begins to move into the late evening sky; in the morning sky it will be joined by Saturn and, during the first part of the month, by Mercury.
EVENING PLANETS, VENUS and MARS
VENUS will remain brilliant in the evening sky throughout February reaching magnitude -4.8 by the 28th. It will get much lower in the western sky during the month, setting before 9 pm, about 45 minutes after the Sun, at the end of February. The planet is in Pisces all month.
MARS will be about 5.5° above and to the right of Venus on the 1st, with the crescent moon less than 3° away on the other side of Mars. With a magnitude 1.1, while still quite bright, Mars will have less than 1% of the brilliance of Venus.
For the first few days of February the relative positions of two planets will change little, both moving to the east through the stars. Later in the month, as Venus' apparent motion slows, Mars will draw away from it. Venus is stationary early in March
Towards the end of February, Mars will pass Uranus. The two are closest on the evening of the 27th, when Uranus will be just over half a degree to the upper left of Mars. With a magnitude 5.9, Uranus will be an easy binocular object, with no star of a similar magnitude close by.
By the end of February Mars will set about 100 minutes after the Sun and nearly an hour later than Venus.
LATE EVENING and MORNING
JUPITER rises near 11.30 pm on the 1st and 9.40 on the 28th. So by then it will be an obvious late evening object to the east. Anyone who has seen Jupiter in the morning sky recently will know that it is close to the first magnitude star Spica. Early in the month their separation will be 3.6°. On the 6th Jupiter is stationary, after that date it will start moving slowly to the west as the faster moving Earth begins to catch up with the planet. The resulting retrograde motion of Jupiter after the 6th will increase its distance very slightly from Spica.
On the night of the 15th and 16th the 80% lit waning moon will pass Jupiter. The two are closest at about 5 am on the 16th when the moon will be 3° below Jupiter with Spica 3.6° above the planet, the three forming a line near to dawn.
SATURN rises about 2.40 am on the 1st and an hour after midnight on the 28th. The planet is in Ophiuchus until the 21st when it moves into Sagittarius. The 32% lit waning moon will be 5° to the left of Saturn on the morning of February 21.
Saturn's ring system is now wide open as seen from the Earth. The planet's north pole is tilted towards us by over 26°. This is sufficient to bring the far edge of the ring system into view over the north pole of Saturn. Also the satellites, visible in a fairly small telescope, will appear scattered around the planet in a pattern changing from night to night.
MERCURY rises about an hour and three-quarters before the Sun on February 1 so it should be visible in the morning sky about an hour before sunrise. The planet will then be a low 7° a little to the south of east. On the 1st Mercury is in Sagittarius at magnitude -0.2, it will be a little below the handle of the "teapot". During February Mercury moves out of Sagittarius, first into Capricornus on the 7th and then into Aquarius on the 24th. At the same time, its elongation from the Sun will steadily decrease. As a result the planet will be lost to view in the twilight glow by about the middle of the month.
The moon, as a very thin crescent, will be 5° to the left of Mercury on the morning of the 26th.
URANUS, at 5.8 to 5.9, remains in Pisces and is best observe early evening. On the 1st about 12.30 am and about 10.30 pm on the 28th. As noted above it is close to Mars at the end of the month giving an easy opportunity to locate the outer planet in binoculars. On the 2nd, the 30% lit waxing moon will be just under 3° to the upper left of Uranus.
NEPTUNE is in Aquarius at magnitude 8.0 throughout February. Nominally in the evening sky, it will be too close to the Sun to observe. It sets just 7 minutes after the Sun on the 28th.
PLUTO was at conjunction with the Sun on January 7, so will be moving into the morning sky during February. The planet is still in Sagittarius and will rise at 2.40 am on the 28th.
(1) CERES is an early evening object. It starts the month in Pisces but moves across a corner of Cetus starting on the 13th. The asteroid is a 9th magnitude object.
(4) VESTA is also an evening object in February with a magnitude fading from 6.6 to 7.1 during the month. It will move to the west through Gemini and will be between 3 and 4° from beta Gem, Pollux, magnitude 1.2.
Four other asteroids brighten sufficiently to be visible in binoculars during the month. Three of them (9) METIS, (14) IRENE and (29) AMPHITRITE are in Leo, although Irene crosses a spur of Leo Minor from the 3rd to the 12th. The fourth, (15) Eunomia is in Sextans. All four brighten to between magnitude 9.0 and 9.2. Three of them are at opposition during February, Eunomia February 16/17, Irene February 23/27 and Metis the following night. Amphitrite brightens from 9.8 on the 1st to 9.2 on the 28th. It is at opposition in March.
Up to 3 comets may be visible in binoculars during February. Magnitudes shown are estimates for the whole comet, the nucleus is likely to be fainter.
P/Encke (2P) is in Pisces fairly close to Venus. It brightens during the month from magnitude 11.4 on the 1st to 5.5 on the 28th. Unfortunately as it brightens so it gets lower in the western early evening sky. By the 28th it will set only 34 minutes after the Sun making it virtually un observable.
P/Honda-Mrkos- Pajdusakova (45P) moves into the morning sky at the beginning of February. On the 8th it will be at magnitude 8.3. Two mornings later (10th) at 8.5 it will 6° to the lower left of alpha Oph (2.1). On the 13th 2° below alpha CrB (2.2) and on the mornings of 15 and 16 Feb at mag 9.2 it will be 12.5°below Arcturus (mag 0.2). Thus it will remain a very low object for NZ observers.