February is always a short month; in 2022, it also happens to be one of the quietest months of the year for astronomy events. While we normally get creative to find a good number of reasons to get out and go stargazing each month, the February night sky will certainly beautiful – but not particularly full of special astronomical experiences.
Don’t let that dissuade you! Even if you don’t make it out for one of these few astronomy events this month, you can still enjoy all the other wonders of the night sky. In particular, bright Venus and dusty Mars are hanging out in the same part of the sky (pre-dawn actually, so you don’t even need to stay up late – just get up early). These two planets are always beautiful to see.
Where necessary, I’ve noted the astronomical events that require a telescope (or binoculars) to view. There aren’t many this month, but you may still wish to invest in a good pair of astronomical binoculars or a new ‘scope to see even more as we move through the heart of dark winter in the northern hemisphere. I’ve got suggestions for every price point, from $100 to $1000.
Ready to explore what’s up in the February night sky? Let’s dive into the eight events you can look forward to – never mind the 20 other days where you’ll hopefully enjoy clear skies.
This post was originally published in 2018, and is updated annually – most recently in January 2022.
February 5 – Asteroid 20 Massalia at Opposition
In 2021, I began to add more events to these monthly lists, focusing on the smaller objects in our solar system that add a few interesting steps to the celestial dance – comets, asteroids, and dwarf planets. While all of these objects require a telescope to view, they give you a chance to stretch your stargazing experience beyond simply enjoying the planets and moon in the sky.
That’s why this list of February night sky events starts out with such an opportunity: on the night of February 5th, asteroid 20 Massalia will be at opposition. For those not familiar with the term, this means that the sun and 20 Massalia will be exactly opposite of one another, with the Earth in the middle. 20 Massalia will be brightly illuminated and ideal for observation – with a telescope, of course.
If you want to try and start the month with some asteroid-spotting, look for 20 Massalia in the constellation Cancer; it’ll be high in the southern sky, and the best time to view is around midnight local time.
February 7 – Lunar Occultation of Uranus
One of the most exciting astronomical events in 2022 occurs not just once, but ten times throughout the year. It’s the lunar occultation of Uranus – that is, when the moon will pass directly in front of Uranus from our perspective.
The first lunar occultation of Uranus will occur on February 7th, but will only be visible to those who happen to be sailing through through the far southern Atlantic ocean. Don’t worry though, there’s a lunar occultation almost every other month of 2022, and many will be visible from inhabited areas of land on Earth.
February 8 – Mercury at its Morning Peak
Tiny Mercury can be tricky to spot even at the best of times – but it’s so often hidden in the glare of the sun that those ‘best of times’ are not very common! After a chance to spot Mercury in the evening sky during January, your next opportunity will be in the morning of February 8th (and surrounding dates). Before sunrise, you may be able to spot Mercury when the sun is still below the horizon but Mercury is above it.
Specifically, Mercury will reach its peak altitude of 13° above the horizon before sunrise. To see Mercury, you will need a clear view of the southeastern horizon; look for bright Mars and Venus, which will be in the same area of the sky.
February 8 – Peak of the α-Centaurid Meteor Shower
If you’re looking to spot meteors in February, your best bet will be on the night of February 8th when the α-Centaurid (alpha Centaurid) meteor shower will peak. The α-Centaurids typically occur from January 28th to February 21st each year; in 2022, the peak night is expected to be on February 8th. On this night you can expect to see roughly 5 meteors per hour.
To spot α-Centaurids on this night, look for the constellation Centaurus, which is the radiant point. As this constellation is only visible for those in the southern hemisphere, sky-viewers in the northern hemisphere will struggle to spot any meteors above the horizon.
However, a night sky app may help in case it’s near the horizon based on your latitude. While meteors will appear to radiate from this point, you should be able to see meteors from anywhere in that area of the night sky.
February 9 – Venus at Greatest Brightness
Venus is bright normally, but on the morning of February 9th, it will be especially bright. Shining at magnitude -4.6, Venus will be sharing the same part of the sky as Mars and Mercury, low above the southeastern horizon.
If you happened to miss seeing Mercury on the 8th, this is a second chance – bright Venus will be a shining beacon for spotting nearby Mercury closer to the horizon before the sun starts the day.
February 12 – Conjunction of Venus & Mars
If you haven’t inferred, Venus and Mars are hanging out in the same part of the sky right now – the morning sky! On the morning of February 12th, Venus and Mars will be in conjunction, which means they’re rising at the same angle and direction – and close together. Look for them just 6°34′ apart; about the width of your four fingers held at arms length. Given how bright Venus is right now and Mars’ distinctive reddish hue, you really can’t miss them as long as you get up and look in the right part of the sky (the southeastern part!).
February 27 – Conjunction of the Moon, Venus & Mars
After several weeks of quiet on the astronomical front, February ends with another conjunction: this time the moon will make two close approaches to Venus and Mars, who are still hanging out in the same part of the sky. First the Moon will pass Venus from about 8°44′ apart (the width of your closed fist at arm’s length), then a few hours later it’ll pass Mars just 3°31′ apart.
As the moon will be a lovely waning crescent, this is a great picture opportunity if you love looking at the Moon and planets in addition to stargazing.
While February isn’t as astronomically bombastic as other months, there are still a few interesting night sky events worth heading out and setting up your telescope for. Do you have questions about these night sky events in February? Let us know in the comments!