Year of the Dragon | February 2024 Sky Happenings


February 5, 2024
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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.)

Year of the Dragon | February 2024 Sky Happenings. Sky map of the constellations found in the night's sky during the month of February.
This star map shows the Houston sky at 9 pm CST on February 1, 8 pm CST on February 14, and dusk on February 29.  To use the map, put the direction you are facing at the bottom.
 
Taurus, the Bull, is almost overhead along with Gemini, the Twins. 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.  Leo, the Lion, rises in the east.  In the north, the Big Dipper has re-entered the evening sky.  Brilliant Jupiter is high in the west.

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.

Clear Skies!


Miss the first Sky Happenings of the year? Take a look at January.

Authored By James Wooten

James is the Planetarium Astronomer at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. He teaches students every school morning in the planetarium, and also answers astronomy questions from the public.


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