February 2023

Welcome to SkyEye, your guide to this month's celestial events.

The Calendar

Saturn vanishes from view, hiding on the far side of the Sun mid-month. The smallest Full Moon of the year occurs early this month but that doesn't stop our satellite from occulting Jupiter, Uranus and Mars later in February.

The phases of the Moon in February 2023

Date Body Event
1 Comet C/2022 E3 (ZFT) closest approach to Earth
3 Moon 1.9° south of the first-magnitude star β Geminorum (Pollux)
4 Uranus east quadrature
Moon apogee
5 Mercury descending node
Moon full: Micro Moon
9 Mars 1.9° north of the fourth-magnitude star τ Tauri
12 Moon descending node
13 Moon last quarter
14 Moon 1.6° north of the first-magnitude star α Scorpii (Antares)
15 Venus, Neptune 0.01° apart
Mercury aphelion: 0.467 au
16 Saturn conjunction
18 Moon, Mercury 3.6° apart
19 Moon perigee
Moon, Saturn 3.7° apart
20 Moon new
21 Moon, Neptune 2.5° apart
22 Moon, Venus 2.1° apart
Moon, Jupiter lunar occultation: visible from Antarctica and southern South America
24 Moon ascending node
25 Moon, Uranus lunar occultation: 1.3° apart (visible from Baffin Island)
26 Moon 2.1° south of the open star cluster M45 (Pleiades)
27 Moon first quarter
Saturn 0.8° north of the fourth-magnitude star ι Aquarii
28 Moon, Mars lunar occultation: 1.1° apart (visible from northern Scandinavia, Iceland and the Arctic)

The Solar System

The word planet is derived from the Greek word for 'wanderer'. Unlike the background stars, planets seem to move around the sky, keeping mostly to a narrow track called the ecliptic, the path of the Sun across the stars. Dwarf planets and small solar-system bodies, including comets, are not so constrained, often moving far above or below the ecliptic.

The position of the Sun and planets at mid-month

Sun CapricornusAquarius

Mercury SagittariusCapricornus

Visible in the morning sky, Mercury is losing altitude and is best seen from the southern hemisphere early in February. It continues to brighten all month, ending at magnitude −0.6.

Venus AquariusPiscesCetusPisces

The evening star and eighth-magnitude Neptune have a very close encounter on 15 February when the two bodies are just over 0.01° apart. A telescope will be necessary to see dim Neptune near Venus which shines at a dazzling magnitude −4.0 in the darkening western sky. A very slender crescent Moon glides Venus on 22 February with the two objects just over 2° apart.

Earth and Moon

The Full Moon on 5 February is the smallest of the year, earning the sobriquet 'Micro Moon'. Our satellite occults three planets this month: Jupiter on 22 February, Uranus three days later, and Mars on the last day of the month. The waxing gibbous Moon passes less than 2° south of the first-magnitude star Pollux on the third; the Moon is in its waning crescent phase when it's found 1.6° north of Antares on 14 February. The waxing crescent Moon will make a pretty site with the open star cluster known as the Pleiades on 26 February when the two objects are 2.1° apart. Comet C/2022 E3 (ZFT) will be at its brightest at the beginning of the month, possibly visible to the naked eye under very dark conditions.

Mars Taurus

Mars is visible in the evening sky, best seen from the northern hemisphere. It is dimming throughout the month as it recedes from Earth, beginning at magnitude −0.3 and ending at +0.4. In a telescope, the red planet appears as a gibbous disk. On 9 February, Mars passes 1.9° north of the blue fourth-magnitude multiple star system τ Tauri, one of the stars outlining the northern horn of Taurus, the Bull. The final day of the month brings another lunar occultation. Beginning around 04:00 UT, the waxing gibbous Moon passes between Mars and Earth as seen from northern Scandinavia, Svalbard, Iceland and parts of Greenland.

Jupiter PiscesCetusPisces

Jupiter is getting lower in the west as night falls but is still aloft at the end of evening twilight. A young crescent Moon occults the bright planet on 22 February. This event begins around 22:00 UT and is visible from the southern parts of South America, plus the Falkland Islands.

Saturn CapricornusAquarius

Saturn is at conjunction on 16 February and is largely lost to view. It transitions from being an evening sky object low in the west at the beginning of the month to appearing low in the east before sunrise by the end of February. Early risers in the southern hemisphere have the best opportunity to spot Saturn less than a degree north of the blue fourth-magnitude spectroscopic binary star ι Aquarii on the penultimate day of the month.

Uranus Aries

Uranus is visible in the evening sky, setting before midnight for southern hemisphere observers but remaining aloft until the early hours of the morning in northern winter skies. It reaches east quadrature on the fourth day of the month. The planet's third lunar occultation of the year takes place on 25 February but this is seen only from the Arctic, particularly Baffin Island in the Canadian territory of Nunavut.

Neptune Aquarius

The blue ice giant is found in the west after skies darken. A small telescope is necessary to capture brilliant Venus and eighth-magnitude Neptune on 15 February when the two planets are just 43 arc-seconds apart. A slender crescent Moon is just 2.5° south of Neptune less than a week later on 21 February.

The Celestial Sphere

Constellations are patterns of stars in the sky. The International Astronomical Union recognises 88 different constellations. The brightest stars as seen from the Earth are easy to spot but do you know their proper names? With a set of binoculars you can look for fainter objects such as nebulae and galaxies and star clusters or some of the closest stars to the Sun.

Descriptions of the sky for observers in both the northern and southern hemispheres are available for the following times this month. Subtract one hour from your local time if summer (daylight savings) time is in effect.

Local Time Mid-month Northern Hemisphere Equator Southern Hemisphere
1730 hours (1830 hours summer time) 60° N 50° N 40° N 30° N 20° N 10° N 10° S 20° S 30° S 40° S
1930 hours (2030 hours summer time) 60° N 50° N 40° N 30° N 20° N 10° N 10° S 20° S 30° S 40° S
2130 hours (2230 hours summer time) 60° N 50° N 40° N 30° N 20° N 10° N 10° S 20° S 30° S 40° S
2330 hours (0030 hours summer time) 60° N 50° N 40° N 30° N 20° N 10° N 10° S 20° S 30° S 40° S
0130 hours (0230 hours summer time) 60° N 50° N 40° N 30° N 20° N 10° N 10° S 20° S 30° S 40° S
0330 hours (0430 hours summer time) 60° N 50° N 40° N 30° N 20° N 10° N 10° S 20° S 30° S 40° S
0530 hours (0630 hours summer time) 60° N 50° N 40° N 30° N 20° N 10° N 10° S 20° S 30° S 40° S