Editor’s Note: It is the Year of the Dragon and we continue to look up at the star-filled night skies with HMNS Astronomer James Wooten as he discusses the New Moon and the Earth’s rotation.
Saturn is about to leave the evening sky. Face southwest at dusk to observe it as February begins. Each evening, though, Saturn appears lower and lower to the horizon until it is lost in the Sun’s glare by mid-month. How long can you observe it?
Jupiter is prominent high in the sky, high in the west at nightfall. No star at night is as bright.
Venus remains in the morning sky. Look for it low in the southeast at dawn this month. Venus appears slightly lower to the horizon each morning.
Mars continues to emerge slowly from the Sun’s glare this month. Venus passes by on the 22nd.
Taurus, the Bull is 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.)
Moon Phases in February 2024
Last Quarter Feb. 2, 5:18 p.m.
New Feb. 9, 4:59 p.m.
1st Quarter Feb. 16, 9:01 a.m.
Full Feb. 24, 6:30 a.m.
The New Moon of February 9 is the second New Moon after the winter solstice. Accordingly, it marks the Chinese New Year; the Year of the Dragon begins as the Year of the Rabbit ends. (If you adjust the time to China’s time zone, you’ll see that the date there is February 10).
We often learn that the year is 365 days long, but it’s actually a little more complex. Earth’s revolution around the Sun (year) in fact does not work out to an even number of rotations on its axis (days). The year is actually closer to (but not exactly) 365.25 days long. Most years are 0.25 days too short! To fix this, we wait four years until the error adds up to one day, then add that day to the year. In 2024, we correct the ¼ day error in the year by adding February 29.
Our George Observatory is now open every Saturday night for observing! Purchase tickets in advance on our website.
Miss the first Sky Happenings of the year? Take a look at January.