(WVNS) — Stormtracker59 Meteorologist Bradley Wells is back with another look at the upcoming celestial events that will delight our region all month long. With the month of February upon us, those of us in the two Virginia’s will be treated to Orion standing tall, the Snow Moon, and a rare green comet! Remember to bookmark this page so you and your family can enjoy all the February night sky has to offer.
The following events are marked below for your convenience.
NAKED EYE EVENT: The event is visible without the aid of binoculars or telescopes in dark sky conditions.
TELESCOPE EVENT: The event is enhanced by the use or requires a hobby telescope or binoculars
LARGE TELESCOPE EVENT: A large (8-10 inch) professional telescope is required to view the event.
NOTABLE DAILY NIGHT SKY EVENTS
FEBRUARY (ALL MONTH LONG) – ORION THE HUNTER: NAKED EYE EVENT – This time of year, the constellation Orion is visible on the southern horizon. Orion is one of the brightest constellations making Orion’s early evening rise the best time to view it. With the naked eye, Orion’s famous belt to the Red SuperGiant Star Beetlejuice can be found.
Beetlejuice was the star that dimmed considerably causing fears/anticipation of the stars supernova explosion from December 2019 to January 2020. The star ejected large amounts of matter that obstructed its light reaching Earth. However, in 2021, the star began to glow brighter as scientists discovered a dust clouds around the star began to fade.
TELESCOPE EVENT – A three star cluster just below Orion’s belt holds a special treat for those with a telescope. The Orion Nebula can be found with Orion and the cold February nights make it great conditions to view and photograph. The larger your telescope the better your view with this amazing nebula. For Harry Potter fans, the star Bellatrix or “female warrior” will dazzle you with a brilliant blue hue on clear nights and is also found within the Orion constellation.
FEBRUARY 5th – COMET WATCH: – TELESCOPE EVENT: Our celestial friend, Comet C/2022 E3 (ZFT), is continuing its trek to the sun and on this night, the comet is as close to Earth as it will get providing the best chance to spot it. The way to find this comet is to find the big and little dippers in the northern sky. Between these two constellations will be Comet C/2022 E3 (ZFT) appearing as a faint green glow. The better your telescope the more details you spot in the tail debris and comet nucleus shining bright. The comet will than move around the sun and race out of the solar system for the rest of the month. The letter “C” in the name denotes this comet is not a periodic comet like Haley’s comet but rather one that comes and goes on its own timeframe. It’s possible Earth will see this comet again but not for another million years or so.
FEBRUARY 5th/6th – SNOW MOON NAKED EYE EVENT– February’s full moon is known as the “Snow Moon”. It was given this name as February is typically the snowiest month for the United States overall. For our region, January edges out February on snow total most years. Other names assigned by Native American tribes in the past were the “Bald Eagle Moon”, “Bear Moon”, “Raccoon Moon” and the “Groundhog Moon”.
FEBRUARY 8th – MINOR METEOR SHOWER NAKED EYE EVENT– While February isn’t known for large meteor showers, those hopeful to catch a shooting star will have their best luck this night. The alpha Centaurid’s meteor shower peaks this night. This will be for the brave of heart as February nights can get down right chilly and this meteor shower only boasts about 5 meteors an hour. Look towards the southwest sky in the darkest sky possible for best viewing.
FEBRUARY 10th – ANOTHER CRACK AT THE COMET: TELESCOPE EVENT: Those who missed their chance to spot the comet last weekend will have another opportunity and this time with a well known reference point to guide you. On this night, spot the red planet Mars nearly overhead in the southwestern sky. Comet C/2022 E3 (ZFT) will be just above the red planet. The pair will set after 3 A.M. on the morning of the 11th. For binocular users, the pair will be visible in the same field of view.
FEBRUARY 11th – GLOWING DEBRIS: If you look towards the western horizon in dark sky conditions, you’ll find a faint glow rising into the night sky from the ground. This glow is known as the zodiacal light or sunlight reflecting off ancient comet debris. Material left over from the formation of our own solar system still “glows” 4.6 Billion years later.
FEBRUARY 14th – LOVE IS IN THE SKY: TELESCOPE EVENT: Our sister planet joins the sky with one of the farthest planets in the solar system, Neptune for a night out on the town this Valentine’s Day. Finding Venus won’t be hard along the western horizon as it is one of the brightest object in the sky. Half a finger (0.6 degrees) to the north, the faint blue spec that is Neptune can be found. Telescope users will want to move Venus out of their frame of view to find Neptune as Venus will wash out the faint planet from view.
FEBRUARY 18th – MERCURY AND OUR MOON: NAKED EYE EVENT – The closest planet to our sun, Mercury, is typically washed out by our sun. On this night however, look just over the southeast horizon after sunset just as the sliver of moon left rises. Here, you’ll find Mercury hovering just above the moon.
TELESCOPE EVENT: This will be one of the few times telescope users will be able to gaze upon Mercury without filters for an extended period of time before the it sets.
FEBRUARY 20th – STARTING OVER: For stargazers, the darkest sky possible is the best conditions for astrophotography, viewing distant galaxies, or those hoping to spot a shooting star. On this night our moon goes dark providing the darkest sky possible this month as we complete another lunar cycle with the New Moon.
FEBRUARY 21st – EARTHSHINE: One of the cool features of sunlight and our atmosphere is how much of it is reflected, usually unnoticed by us on the ground. However, as our moon emerges with the finest of slivers this night, earthshine can be spotted reflecting off the moon. Earthshine is from sun light being reflecting off our atmosphere, giving it a blue hue, and striking the moon turning it a pale blue making the whole moon ever so visible to us.
PLANETS VISIBLE ALL THIS MONTH
Venus, Neptune, Jupiter, Uranus, Mars, Mercury, Saturn will filter in an out this month. Venus, Jupiter, Mars, and Mercury can be found without a telescope and are often some of the brightest objects in the night sky. Those with large telescopes will be able to spot Neptune and Uranus along with a spectacular view of Saturn’s rings.
FIND THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION
FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 3rd – Look northwest starting around 6:44 P.M. The ISS will pass over head towards the southeast sky lasting 7 minutes until 6:51 P.M.
SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 5th – Look along the west-northwest horizon around 6:45 P.M. The ISS will slide across the horizon towards the southern sky lasting about 6 minutes.
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 16th – Look along the southwestern horizon around 6:38 P.M. The ISS will pass overhead towards the northeast sky lasting about 7 minutes.
WALLOPS ISLAND, VIRGINIA LAUNCH SCHEDULE:
FEBRUARY 9th – MesOrion Launch scheduled between 8am – 10am if weather allows. Typically with daytime launches, we don’t have a good chance at seeing these launches from our region. However, if the mission is scrubbed for later in the day or to another day with a night launch, we may have the opportunity to see it from here.