9 Must-See Events in the February Night Sky (2023)
February is always a short month; in 2023, 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 nine events you can look forward to – never mind all the other nights where you’ll hopefully enjoy clear skies.
This post was originally published in 2018, and is updated annually – most recently in January 2023.
February 1 – Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) at its Brightest
February kicks off with a one-of-a-kind, once-in-50,000-years astronomy event: Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) was discovered in March 2022 in Italy, and has since been getting closer to earth – until it reaches its closest on the night of February 1st.
At this point, it will reach “perigee” – its closest point to Earth – before heading back out into the far distant reaches of the solar system. Astronomers have calculated that this comet only orbits the sun once every 50,000 years, so it’s worth grabbing your binoculars or telescope, bundling up, and going to take a look at this distant voyager passing by Earth.
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 2023, 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 19 – Messier 81 is Well-Placed for Viewing
After more than a week of quiet nights from an astronomical events perspective, the second half of February has a lot more to look forward to. It kicks off with a good opportunity to spot one of the Messier objects – M81 in particular.
Also called Bode’s Galaxy, Messier 81 (M81) is a beautiful “grand design” spiral galaxy about 12 million light-years from Earth. It’s located in the constellation Ursa Major (The Big Dipper/Plough) and requires a telescope to see – but it’s worth it on the night of February 19th when it’s high in the sky around midnight local time for most viewers.
February 22 – Close Approach of the Moon & Venus
As is the case most months, the Moon is a central figure in the astronomical events you should mark on your calendar. The final week of February includes four chances where you can see the Moon quite close to other planets in the solar system; these are a great opportunity for stargazing especially if you’re teaching a young family member about the different planets and want them to easily see them.
The first “close approach” occurs in the pre-dawn hours of February 22, when the Moon and bright Venus will be in the same part of the sky. They’ll be just 1°50′ apart, and the Moon will be a brand new waxing crescent; it’s a beautiful reason to get out of bed early.
February 22 – Close Approach of the Moon & Jupiter
The night of February 22nd, the Moon then has a close approach with giant Jupiter. The pair will appear even closer than the Moon and Venus did – just 1°03′ apart. (Admittedly, we aren’t great at telling degrees in the night sky ‘by eye,’ but needless to say, they’ll be close!)
Look for them in the Western sky, as the Moon sets around midnight Eastern (US) time.
February 22 – Lunar Occultation of Jupiter
2023 is a big year for lunar occultations – that is, times when the Moon passes in front of other objects in the night sky (from our Earthly perspective, of course). Of course the Moon is always passing in front of stuff, but certain “lunar occultations” are notable.
In February, there are two; the first one occurs on the same night as Jupiter and the Moon make a close approach. Basically, most of us see a close approach – but people in a certain part of the world will see them so “close” that the Moon actually passes in front of Jupiter. What region will that be? Far southern South America; here‘s a map to show you the region in case you call that part of the world home.
February 25 – Close Approach of the Moon & Uranus
If you have a telescope or high-powered astronomy binoculars and want an excuse to pull them out again before the month ends, here’s your opportunity: in the dawn hours of February 25th, the few-days-old Moon and Uranus will have a close approach, appearing just 1°10′ apart. There won’t be a lunar occultation this time around (the last one of 2023 happened in January), but the Moon will be a nice guide for trying to see distant, icy Uranus if you’ve never looked for it before.
February 27 – Close Approach of the Moon & Mars
The final “close approach” in the February night sky occurs as the month comes to a close: on the night of February 27th, the Moon will cozy up to rusty, dusty Mars. At their closest, they’ll be just 1°03′ apart in the sky, and quite the eye-catching pair sitting high in the night sky. There is no equipment necessary to spot our planet’s largest satellite and nearest planetary neighbor.
February 27 – Lunar Occultation of Mars
Just like with Jupiter earlier in the month, the Moon will pass in front of Mars from the perspective of some areas on Earth, on the same night as most of us see a close approach between the two. While I generally consider it unlikely that anyone reading this resides in the far north Arctic regions of the world or northeastern Greenland – if you are – you’ll be able to see the lunar occultation of mars from there. Here‘s a helpful map if you want to double-check whether you happen to be in the zone where it will be visible.
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 me know in the comments!
For Feb 18th and referring to the Moon and Mars, you say, “They’ll appear roughly 0°45′ from one another in the pre-dawn hours before they both set in the southeastern sky.”
Both SET in the southeastern sky! Are you sure? Don’t you mean, “They’ll appear roughly 0°45′ from one another in the pre-dawn hours before they are lost in the sunrise glow.”
On feb 8th there was no meteor shower I was very disappointed I was standing in the cold for 15 minutes.
Thanks for commenting, Bobby. It’s worth noting that the α-Centaurid meteor shower only averages 5 meteors per hour on its peak night – so you might have only seen 1-2 during a 15-minute window, assuming you had perfect viewing conditions and darkness. Wishing you better luck next time!
Mark Steven Williams
You’ve missed the lunar occultation of Tauri K1 & K2 at 0430 UT, 10 Feb which will be observable across most of North America. I consider this the premiere observable event of February
Thanks for sharing, Mark!
Isn’t Venus in the evening sky this month, not pre-dawn?
Venus swings around to the morning by month’s end 🙂
Hiya Valerie……cool site!
I`m francis from Altoona,Pa. I`m 65 yrs old and love the night sky. Although this location (cityish) usually yields only the brightest planets, last evening Feb. 15th 2023 it was a clear night with a breeze which showed more than usual objects out there. Today I`ve been trying to find a site that would show pretty much everything I could see from central Penna but haven`t found it. One site showed what planets to see but that was it. Anyhow….. around 10:00 pm as I faced mostly west….and looked up to an approx halfway point between straight up and horizon (say a 2-3 oclock position I seen 3 faint objects that were together horizontally. If you could raise your arm up and hold three fingers together and point to it, that was how close together they were. They were all of the same brightness magnitude. At first I though maybe it was part of “starlink” but they didn`t move. and an hour later they were still there just a little further along (earth spin). Anyhow Valerie I don`t know if your site is still active but would love to hear from you if you have an idea as to what stars,constilations,ect. that may have been in close conjuntion last night. It was very cool! Thanks Valerie……Francis
I’m confused why you’re asking if my site is still active – I’ve been posting regularly for years!
I’m not sure what you saw, but I always use the app Night Sky on my phone when I’m out trying to identify night sky objects I’m not familiar with, or you can use this site to input your location, date, and time to try and figure out what you saw: https://in-the-sky.org//skymap.php