February Calendar by Dave Mitsky

All times are UT (subtract 5 hours and when appropriate 1 calendar day for EST)

2/1 Mercury is 1.8 degrees south-southeast of Neptune at 21:00
2/2 Groundhog Day or Candlemas, a cross-quarter day; Saturn is 0.61 degrees south-southwest of the center of the bright open cluster M44 (the Beehive) at 0:00; the Moon is at ascending node (longitude 5.6 degrees) at 8:03
2/3 Venus is stationary in right ascension, with direct (eastward) motion to follow, at 7:00
2/5 Asteroids 11 Parthenope (magnitude 11.2) and 16 Psyche (magnitude 10.7) are 2 degrees north of the first magnitude star Aldebaran and only 1.1' apart from each other at approximately 4:00; First Quarter Moon occurs at 6:28; the Galilean satellites Io, Europa, and Callisto form a compact, vertically aligned group at 15:24; Mars is 2.1 degrees south-southeast of the Moon at 21:00
2/6 Neptune is in conjunction with the Sun at 6:00; the Moon is 0.29 degrees west of the bright open cluster M45 (the Pleiades) at 7:00; Jupiter is in western quadrature (90 degrees west of the Sun) at 18:00
2/7 Maximum lunar libration of 9.1 degrees occurs at 10:00
2/10 The Moon is 1.8 degrees south of the first magnitude star Pollux at 15:00
2/11 The equation of time is at its minimum (-14.26 minutes) for 2006 at 11:00
2/13 Full Moon (known as the Hunger, Snow, Storm, or Wolf Moon) occurs at 4:44; the Moon is 2.5 degrees north-northeast of the first magnitude star Regulus at 17:00
2/14 The Moon is at apogee, subtending 29'24" from a distance of 406,359 km, at 1:00; Mercury (magnitude -1.1) is 0.02 degrees northeast of Uranus (magnitude 5.9) at 16:00
2/15 Minimum lunar libration of 2.8 degrees occurs at 4:00; Venus at its greatest latitude north of the ecliptic (3.4 degrees) at 16:00
2/17 Venus is at greatest brilliancy at 20:00
2/16 The Sun enters the constellation of Aquarius (ecliptic longitude 327.71 degrees) at 13:00; the Moon is at the descending node (longitude 184.7 degrees) at 14:40
2/18 Mars is 2.3 degrees south-southeast of the center of the bright open cluster M45 (the Pleiades) at 2:00; the Moon is 0.41 degrees north of the first magnitude star Spica at 5:00 - an occultation occurs in central Africa and the easternmost part of North America; Mercury is at the ascending node at 8:00
2/19 Mars is in eastern quadrature (90 degrees east of the Sun) at 15:00
2/20 Jupiter is 4.8 degrees north-northeast of the Moon at 5:00
2/21 Last Quarter Moon occurs at 7:17; the Moon is 0.29 degrees southeast of the first magnitude star Antares at 21:00 - an occultation occurs in New Zealand, most of Australia, and Indonesia
2/22 Mercury is at perihelion at 0:00; maximum lunar libration of 10.1 degrees occurs at 12:00
2/23 Asteroid 4 Vesta is stationary at 8:00; comet C/2005 E2 (McNaught) is at perihelion at 13:00
2/24 Mercury is at greatest eastern elongation (18 degrees) at 5:00; Mercury and the star 14 Piscium are within 5.0" of each other at 8:26 - an occultation occurs in Australia
2/25 The Moon is 0.79 degrees south of the asteroid 1 Ceres at 10:00
2/26 The Moon is 3.6 degrees south-southeast of Neptune at 16:00
2/27 The Moon is at perigee, subtending 33'29" from a distance of 356,885 km, at 20:00 - large tides may occur
2/28 New Moon (lunation 1029) occurs at 0:31; the Moon is 1.4 degrees south-southeast of Uranus at 3:00; minimum lunar libration of 2.5 degrees occurs at 15:00

Times and dates for the lunar light rays predicted to occur this month are available at http://www.lunar-occultations.com/rlo/rays/rays.htm

The zodiacal light may be visible during the second half of February from a dark site. Look to the west as evening twilight ends.

The planets on February 1: Mercury (-1.4 magnitude, 4.9", 99% illuminated), Venus (-4.5 magnitude, 53.0", 11% illuminated), Mars (0.2 magnitude, 8.8", 89% illuminated), Jupiter (- 2.0 magnitude, 36.2", 99% illuminated), Saturn (-0.2 magnitude, 20.4", 100% illuminated), Uranus (5.9 magnitude, 3.3", 100% illuminated), Neptune (8.0 magnitude, 2.2", 100% illuminated), and Pluto (14.0 magnitude, 0.1", 100% illuminated).

Mercury has one of its finest evening apparitions of 2006 during the second half of the month. It gains one degree in altitude each day after February 8. The closest planetary appulse of the year occurs between Mercury and Uranus on February 14. Mercury is at its best for North American planet watchers on the evening of February 23.

Rising about 2.5 hours before the sun, dazzling Venus decreases nearly 1" in apparent size but increases approximately 1 per cent in illumination each day during the first two weeks of the month.

Mars continues to shrink in both size and magnitude. It travels from Aries to Taurus early in February. For several days at mid-month, Mars (magnitude 0.5, 7.8") is located approximately 2.5 degrees away from M45. It passes two degrees to the south of the star cluster on February 16.

Positioned in Libra, Jupiter rises in the east-southeast about an half an hour before midnight at month's end. It passes 3' north of Nu Librae (magnitude 5.2) on February 28.

At the beginning of the month, Saturn lies very close to the southern edge of M44 in Cancer. By the end of February, the Ringed Planet has retrograded to about 2 degrees west of the large open cluster. On the evening of February 7, a 6.7 magnitude field star lies 2' north of the center of Saturn. Eight magnitude Titan, Saturn's brightest satellite, is due north of the planet on February 2 and 18 and due south on February 10 and 26. Saturn's odd satellite Iapetus is in the vicinity of Titan from February 14 to 16 and is due north of the planet on the night of February 19/20.

The outer gas giants, Uranus and Neptune, are not visible this month.

It is possible to see Pluto before sunrise but it will be a far easier target (not that it's ever a particularly easy target) in late spring and early summer.

The ninth magnitude Comet C/2005 E2 (McNaught) heads through Pisces this month. It passes through the Circlet of Pisces during the first two weeks of February but is more readily observable after Full Moon.

Asteroid 4 Vesta (magnitude 6.9) is located near Epsilon Geminorum. It passes 5' north of the star SAO 78596 (magnitude 6.4) on the evening of February 2.

Variable star for February: R Canis Majoris (maximum magnitude 8.0 on February 24)

Forty binary and multiple stars for February: 41 Aurigae, Struve 872, Otto Struve 147, Struve 929, 56 Aurigae (Auriga); Nu-1 Canis Majoris, 17 Canis Majoris, Pi Canis Majoris, Mu Canis Majoris, h3945, Tau Canis Majoris (Canis Major); Struve 1095, Struve 1103, Struve 1149, 14 Canis Minoris (Canis Minor); 20 Geminorum, 38 Geminorum, Alpha Geminorum (Castor), 15 Geminorum, Lambda Geminorum, Delta Geminorum, Struve 1108, Kappa Geminorum (Gemini); 5 Lyncis, 12 Lyncis, 19 Lyncis, Struve 968, Struve 1025 (Lynx); Epsilon Monocerotis, Beta Monocerotis, 15 (S) Monocerotis (Monoceros); Struve 855 (Orion); Struve 1104, k Puppis, 5 Puppis (Puppis)

Challenge binary star for February: 15 Lyncis (Lynx)

Fifty deep-sky objects for February: NGC 2146, NGC 2403 (Camelopardalis); M41, NGC 2345, NGC 2359, NGC 2360, NGC 2362, NGC 2367, NGC 2383 (Canis Major); M35, NGC 2129, NGC 2158, NGC 2266, NGC 2355, NGC 2371-72, NGC 2392, NGC 2420 (Gemini); NGC 2419 (Lynx); M50, NGC 2232, NGC 2237, NGC 2238, NGC 2244, NGC 2245, NGC 2251, NGC 2261, NGC 2264, NGC 2286, NGC 2301, NGC 2311, NGC 2324, NGC 2335, NGC 2345, NGC 2346, NGC 2353 (Monoceros); NGC 2169, NGC 2174, NGC 2194 (Orion); M46, M47, M93, Mel 71, NGC 2421, NGC 2423, NGC 2438, NGC 2439, NGC 2440, NGC 2467, NGC 2506, NGC 2509 (Puppis)

Challenge deep-sky object for February: IC 443 (Gemini)