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In the News: Planets in the February Sky

This month, Venus and Mars continue their nightly show and toward month’s end, faint Uranus joins the mix.

It would be hard to miss radiant Venus gleaming high in the southwest just after sunset.  In late January a thin crescent Moon joined Venus and also Mars for a spectacular show.  On Feb 28, a razor thin crescent Moon once again joins Venus at dusk.

This month, Venus reaches its peak altitude above the horizon, giving observers several hours to view our closest neighbor before the spinning Earth carries it out of sight.  It also reaches peak brightness about mid-month.  Venus is the brightest natural object in the sky behind the sun and Moon.  It is so bright it can cast shadows and be seen during the day under the right conditions.

Sitting higher up and to the left of Venus is much fainter but distinctly red Mars. The gap between Venus and Mars has been steadily closing over the past several weeks. The two continue to reside together until mid-month when Venus starts a gradual nightly descent toward the horizon.

Moving into take Venus’ place is the planet Uranus.  This bluish far-off world is barely visible to the naked eye under dark conditions for those who know where to look.  While the visible planets have been known to people since they first turned their eyes skyward, Uranus wasn’t discovered until 1781. 

On the evenings of Feb 25-27 Mars lends a big celestial hand in locating Uranus.  Both Mars and Uranus share a binocular view on these evenings, and on the 26th, they are very close, visible together in a telescope at low power.  Uranus should appear as a tiny pale blue disc close to Mars.

Finally, the giant planet Jupiter returns to the evening sky, rising in the east just before midnight at month’s onset.  Unlike Uranus, Jupiter is easily spotted, shining brightly against the background stars.

Article provided by: Brad Nuest, Space Science Educator

Image Credit: Stephen Rahn