This star map shows the Houston sky at 9 pm CST on February 1, 8 pm CST on February 14, and dusk on February 28. To use the map, put the direction you are facing at the bottom. Taurus, the Bull, is almost overhead. Dazzling Orion, the Hunter is high in the south, with his two dogs behind him. Sirius, the Big Dog Star, is the brightest star we ever see at night. Look for Canopus on the southern horizon below Sirius. Jupiter, in Cancer, is up almost all night long in early February. In the north, the Big Dipper has re-entered the evening sky. Venus and Mars are less than one degree apart on the 21st.[/caption]
This month, Mars remains in the southwest at dusk this month as it moves through Aquarius. Mars continues to fade a little each night as Earth continues to leave it farther behind.
Venus is low in the southwest at dusk. Watch Venus approach the much dimmer Mars, until they are less than one degree apart on February 21.
Jupiter is up all night long on February 6. That’s when Earth passes between the Sun and Jupiter, an alignment called ‘opposition’. At opposition Jupiter rises at sundown and sets at sunrise. Jupiter outshines all stars we ever see at night, so it will be obvious in the east at dusk and in the west at dawn.
Saturn is in the south southeast at dawn.
In February, the Big Dipper only partly risen at dusk. Its two pointer stars—the stars farthest from the handle which point at the North Star, may be high enough to see over trees and buildings.
Taurus, the Bull is now high in the south. Look for the Pleiades star cluster above reddish Aldebaran. Dazzling Orion, the Hunter takes center stage on winter evenings Surrounding Orion are the brilliant stars of winter. Orion’s belt points down to Sirius, the Dog Star, which outshines all other stars we ever see at night. The Little Dog Star, Procyon, rises with Sirius and is level with Orion’s shoulder as they swing towards the south. To the upper left of Orion’s shoulder is Gemini, the Twins.
Under Sirius and low to the southern horizon this month is a star that most Americans never get to see—Canopus. Representing the bottom (keel) of the legendary ship Argo, Canopus is the second brightest star ever visible at night. Thus, it is clearly noticeable along the southern horizon on February and March evenings. However, you must be south of 37 degrees north to see Canopus rise. (This is the line that divides Utah, Colorado, and Kansas from Arizona, New Mexico, and Oklahoma.)
The sky we see depends on our latitude as well as on the time of night and time of year. From any given location in our hemisphere, there is an area of the sky around the North Star in which stars never set (circumpolar stars), and an equivalent area around the South Celestial Pole in which stars never rise. The closer you are to the pole, the larger these areas are. The closer you get to the equator, the fewer circumpolar stars there are, but there are also fewer stars that never rise for you. At the equator, no stars are either circumpolar or never visible; all of them rise and set as Earth turns.
That’s why, down here in south Texas, the Big Dipper sets although it’s always up for most Americans. On the other hand, Canopus, too far south to rise for most Americans, rises for us.
Moon Phases in February 2015:
Full February 3, 5:10 pm
Last Quarter February 11, 9:52 pm
New February 18, 5:49 pm
1st Quarter February 28, 11:15 am
The New Moon of February 18 is the second New Moon after the winter solstice. Accordingly, it marks Chinese New Year. The Year of the Horse ends and the Year of the Sheep begins.
Click here for the Burke Baker Planetarium schedule.
On most clear Saturday nights at the George Observatory you can hear me do live star tours on the observation deck with a green laser pointer. If you’re there, listen for my announcement.