In the Sky: February

February will be an exciting month in the sky. We are being visited by a rare greenish, but small comet named C/2022 E3 (ZTF). During the first two weeks of the month, it may be visible with the naked eye from a dark site and should be visible with binoculars. It will be moving quickly through the northern sky from the area near Polaris, the North Star, to the very bright planet Mars that it will pass closely on the evening of February 10. However, there are three caveats in seeing the comet. Since it is small and dim, it will look like a fuzzy star and have no tail. Secondly, when the bright Moon is in the sky, it will be harder to see the comet. It may help to block some of Moon’s light by standing in its shadow by a building or other object. Finally, comets are notoriously fickle, so it may not be visible at all.

Another interesting show during February will involve very bright Jupiter and brilliant Venus. Although Jupiter is moving slowly eastward when compared to the background stars, it will seem to be moving westward as Earth in its faster orbit leaves it behind. As it drifts toward the western horizon, it will be met by faster moving, brilliant Venus. Since these planets are the two brightest star-like objects in the sky, they should be unmistakable and easy to follow as they move closer together. They will be very close at the end of the month.

Very bright, but diming, Mars also will begin moving eastward when compared to the background stars. During February, it will stay in the constellation Taurus (the Bull) but will move from above the bright star Aldebaran and toward the fairly bright star Alnath that represents the upper and brighter tip of the bull’s horns. Alnath is an unusual star because it is also a part of the constellation Auriga (the Charioteer).

Mercury, the last planet visible during February, will be low in the southeast during the first ten days of the month. Start looking about 45 minutes before sunrise. You will need a clear horizon since Mercury will only be about 2-3 finger widths above the horizon as the month begins, and it will get lower each day until it disappears in the predawn glow.