The sky this week for February 13 to 18
Head outside before dawn and you can’t miss Jupiter. The giant planet rises shortly before 1 a.m. local time and climbs 30° high in the south by the time twilight commences. Jupiter shines at magnitude –2.1, which makes it the brightest point of light in the night sky, and resides among the much dimmer stars of the constellation Libra. A telescope reveals the planet’s 37″-diameter disk.
Wednesday, February 14
The dwarf planet Ceres reached opposition and peak visibility in late January, and it remains a fine sight this month. It currently shines at magnitude 7.0 and is an easy object to spot through binoculars. The largest member of the asteroid belt resides in the northern part of the constellation Cancer the Crab, which appears in the east once darkness falls and climbs highest in the south around 11 p.m. local time. This evening, Ceres lies 0.9° south-southwest of the 5th-magnitude star Sigma3 (σ3) Cancri.
Thursday, February 15
New Moon occurs at 4:05 p.m. EST. At its New phase, the Moon crosses the sky with the Sun and so remains hidden in our star’s glare. At least, it typically does. But if you live in the right area, today you can watch the Moon pass in front of the Sun and cause a partial solar eclipse. Observers in most of Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay will have front-row seats. The best sites are at the southern tip of South America, where the Moon covers 35 percent of the Sun’s diameter at maximum. Remember that when viewing the Sun during a partial eclipse, protect your eyes by using a safe solar filter
This is a good week to look for Sirius in the evening sky. The night sky’s brightest star (at magnitude –1.5) appears due south and at its highest position around 9 p.m. local time. It then lies about one-third of the way from the horizon to the zenith from mid-northern latitudes. (The farther south you live, the higher it appears.) If you point binoculars at Sirius, look for the pretty star cluster M41 in the same field of view, just 4° below the star.
Saturday, February 17
Although the Moon reached its New phase just two days ago, its rapid orbital motion carries it into view after the Sun goes down this evening. Look low in the west-southwest about an hour after sunset and you’ll see its 4-percent-lit crescent hanging in the twilight like the smile of the Cheshire Cat.
Mercury reaches superior conjunction at 7 a.m. EST. This means the innermost planet lies on the opposite side of the Sun from Earth and remains hidden in our star’s glare. It will return to view in the evening sky in late February.
Sunday, February 18
Two of the finest deep-sky objects shine prominently on February evenings. The Pleiades and Hyades star clusters appear highest in the south as darkness falls but remain conspicuous until well past midnight. The Pleiades, also known at the Seven Sisters and M45, looks like a small dipper to naked eyes. The larger Hyades forms the V-shaped head of Taurus the Bull. Although both look nice with naked eyes, binoculars show them best.