December 5, 2023

Skywatching Highlights for February 2022: Don’t Miss Jupiter, Venus, and the Orion Nebula

Whats Up for February? Jupiter makes its exit, Venus at peak brightness, and the star-forming cloud next door.
With the departure of Saturn and Venus over the previous two months, Jupiter is the only brilliant world left in our twilight skies in February, and its on its way out! Once Jupiter leaves at the end of February, the post-sunset sky will be basically devoid of naked-eye planets till August, when Saturn will start increasing in the east around sunset.

Jupiter is the only naked-eye world after sunset in February. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.
You d have to go back four years, to March of 2018, to find twilight skies with no brilliant planets. Capture Jupiter prior to its gone. And search for it to end up being a morning world in April.
Speaking of morning skies, the world Venus will be at its brightest for the year in February, around mid-month. It rises with Mars around 4 a.m. and is visible low in the southeast until daybreak. Due to the fact that of the highly reflective clouds that entirely cover its world, Venus is the brightest of all the worlds in our solar system.
Venus forms a trio with Mars and the crescent Moon on February 26. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.
Its brightness in our skies differs, depending on how far it is from Earth and on its phase. Ends up Venus is brightest not when its closest to Earth, but when its practically at its closest and still shows us a large, intense crescent stage.
So enjoy the crescent Venus that is the planet at its brightest. And try to find Venus to form a trio with the Moon and Mars on the morning of February 26th.
The Orion Nebula is an enormous cloud of gas and dust where thousands of stars are being born. The bright, central area of the Orion nebula is a giant cavity in the cloud being sculpted out by the intense ultraviolet light from a handful of exceptionally huge young stars.
Find Orion high overhead on February nights, where the Orion Nebula is a simple target for binoculars and telescopes. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.
Discovering the Orion Nebula is simple on February nights, as the constellation Orion will be high in the south around 8 or 9 p.m. Look for the three stars of the hunters belt, and after that discover the stars that hang listed below it forming Orions sword. In the center of this line of stars is one that looks kind of fuzzy. Thats the nebula. Its visible to the unaided eye under fairly dark skies, and is easily seen with field glasses as a faint haze. And through a telescope, its a sight youll always remember.
Find Orion high overhead on February nights, where the Orion Nebula is an easy target for telescopes and field glasses. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.
The Orion Nebula is a picture book of star formation, from the enormous, young stars that are shaping the nebula to the pillars of dense gas that might be the homes of budding stars. The intense central area is the home of the 4 heftiest stars in the nebula. The stars are called the Trapezium since they are organized in a trapezoid pattern. Ultraviolet light unleashed by these stars is carving a cavity in the nebula and interrupting the growth of numerous smaller stars. Located near the Trapezium stars are stars still young sufficient to have disks of material surrounding them. These disks are called protoplanetary disks or “proplyds” and are too little to see clearly in this image. The disks are the building blocks of planetary systems.
NASAs Hubble Space Telescope records the formation of newborn stars and planetary systems. Credit: NASA/ESA/STScI/ AURA/The Hubble Heritage Team.

The intense, central area of the Orion nebula is a giant cavity in the cloud being sculpted out by the intense ultraviolet light from a handful of extremely massive young stars.
Discovering the Orion Nebula is simple on February nights, as the constellation Orion will be high in the south around 8 or 9 p.m. Look for the 3 stars of the hunters belt, and then discover the stars that hang listed below it forming Orions sword. The Orion Nebula is a picture book of star development, from the massive, young stars that are forming the nebula to the pillars of thick gas that might be the homes of budding stars. Ultraviolet light let loose by these stars is carving a cavity in the nebula and interfering with the development of hundreds of smaller sized stars. Found near the Trapezium stars are stars still young sufficient to have disks of material surrounding them.