Eyes on the Night Sky – February 2022
Welcome to the February edition of Eyes on the Night Sky, where we will select the best night sky targets that can be seen with the unaided eyes, binoculars and telescopes.
The New Moon falls on 1st February and the Full Moon on 16th February.
During the early mornings of the first couple of weeks of February, Mercury will be easily spotted low in the south-eastern sky, reaching greatest western elongation (highest point that the planet can reach above the horizon). It will also be accompanied by Mars towards and Venus, a bright morning star and a beautiful sight.
Throughout the month, Venus crescent phase will wax, making it appear to be brighter. It rises at around 5.30am in the south-east at the start of the month and 5am at the end. It will appear as the brightest object in the night sky. Venus can even be spotted during the daytime – the trick is to observe its position when it is darker, then follow it as the sky gets brighter. See how long you can see it until the sky becomes too bright.
Mercury will be visible to the unaided eye but if you cannot see it, trying using binoculars to spot it first as it will assist in you being able to know what to look out for. It will be a tiny star-type speck in comparison to bright Venus.
Mars will rise around 6.20 at the start of the month and 5.30am at the end. You will only get to see this red planet for about an hour before the sky becomes too bright.
In the morning of February 26th at around 6am, a conjunction of the Moon, Venus and Mars will occur. Look to the south-east at around 6am and look for Mars low on the horizon. Venus will sit above Mars and the waxing crescent moon will lie westwards.
Shoe Buckle Cluster (Messier 35)
The Shoe Buckle Cluster is an open cluster situated in the constellation of Gemini, about 2800 light years away. Containing around 200 stars, they are not resolvable in binoculars, as you will notice a nebulous patch in the sky at the right foot of Castor, one of the twin brothers in Gemini.
It doesn’t actually resemble a shoe buckle but it’s proximity to Castor’s right foot may provide the inspiration for its designation.
Globular Cluster (Messier 79)
Right ascension | 05h 24m 10.59s
Declination | −24° 31′ 27.3″
For telescope users, try to find a globular cluster on the low, southern horizon in the constellation of Lepus, the hare. Located 42,000 light years away, this densely packed ball of stars; around 150,000 stars in total.
Through small telescopes and binoculars, the cluster will resemble a fuzzy patch and medium sized telescope users will be able to resolve some of the outer stars. Night sky conditions such as true darkness, a still and clear atmosphere will assist in seeing this cluster at its best. It is thought that this object was one part of another galaxy as it’s position in the Milky Way is unusual; it is situated nearly on the periphery of the Milky Way, away from the galactic centre.