Current Night Sky: February 2015

The Moon & Planets: 

Jupiter at its Best

Jupiter reaches opposition – being exactly opposite to the Sun in our sky – on February 6. It is then that the planet rises at sunset, is highest at midnight, and sets at sunrise. It's then also that Jupiter is closest to the Earth (404 million miles) and is at its brightest (magnitude -2.6). The planet's apparent diameter across the equator is now 45 arc-seconds, but its rapid rotation results in it being oblate and only 42 arc-seconds across as measured from pole to pole.

When we look at Jupiter, we do not see its surface; in fact, it may not even have one! Instead, we see the top of a multicolored cloud layer that may be thousands of miles deep. The nature of features such as the alternating dark "belts" and light "zones," as well as the Great Red Spot and other, more transient features, is yet to be understood.

A Cosmic Visitor Recedes

Now that it is past its nearest approaches to both Earth and Sun, Comet C/2014 Q2 (Lovejoy) has begun to dim. At its period of peak visibility in mid-January, it was an easy naked-eye object, and may continue to be for some time. Even as it fades, though, it will still be well-placed for observers in mid-northern latitudes in the northwestern sky in the early evening. The best time to look will be the second and third weeks of February, when the Moon will be out of the sky.

Comet Lovejoy and the Pleiades
Comet Lovejoy

A Gathering at Dusk

Moon, Venus, Mars
Evening Planets (after sunset): 
  • Neptune, W
  • Venus, W
  • Mars, W
  • Uranus, SW
Morning Planets (before sunrise): 
  • Jupiter, W
  • Saturn, S
  • Mercury, SE
Comets: 

Comet C/2014 Q2 (Lovejoy) continues to be well placed for viewing in the Northern Hemisphere, but is rapidly fading and will become a binocular object.

Meteors: 

There are no significant meteor showers in February.

Phases of the Moon: 
Full Moon February 3 6:09 pm EST
Last Quarter Moon February 11 10:50 pm EST
New Moon February 18 6:47 pm EST
First Quarter Moon February 25 12:14 pm EST

Text, graphics, and animations by John Sheff. Graphics courtesy of Starry Night(©) Pro Plus 7 / Imaginova(©) Corp. Starry Night images are used with permission from Imaginova Corp. Starry Night is a registered trademark of Imaginova Corp. Star charts generated by Starry Night Pro Plus 7 © Imaginova Corp. All rights reserved. www.StarryNight.com