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Check out NASA’s skywatching tips for February

February is just about upon us and so it’s time for NASA to once again share its suggestions on what to look out for in the skies in the coming weeks.

Celestial pairings

First up, Jupiter and Venus will appear to converge in the night sky during the coming weeks. They’re easy to spot thanks to their bright appearance, but if you have trouble identifying them, just use one of the many excellent astronomy apps available for Android and iPhone.

Another pairing occurs toward the end of the month when the moon and Mars appear to come very close, high in the southwest after sunset.

Constellation Auriga

NASA says February is a great month to pick out the constellation Auriga.

“Auriga represents an ancient chariot driver, and it’s often depicted as an entire person, but given the outline, you might prefer to think of it as one of a chariot’s wheels,” NASA explains on its website. “The brightest star in Auriga is Capella. Now, in Latin, Capella is a word for a female goat, and in addition to Capella, there are three little stars nearby, known as ‘the kids’ — as in the name for baby goats, which is pretty fun.”

The constellation can be spotted high in the western sky on February evenings. Check out the video for a detailed description of where to find it, or fire up your astronomy app for help.

Star clusters

Grab a pair of binoculars or telescope to get a good look at two open star clusters, M41 and M47.

“They’re called ‘open’ because their stars are close together in space, but in sort of a diffuse structure,” NASA explains.

To locate them in the night sky, first look for Sirius, which stands out brightly toward the south. M41, which is about 2,300 light years away, lies four degrees south of Sirius. NASA says you’ll be able to see them in the same field of view if you’re looking through binoculars. It appears to be about as wide as the full moon, but it’s actually around 25 light years across.

For M47, begin at Sirius and look east about 12 degrees and then several degrees to the north. It’ll appear to be about the same size as M41, though a touch brighter. M47 is located around 1,600 light-years from Earth and is calculated to be about 12 light-years across.

“Our own sun is thought to have formed as part of a cluster like these,” NASA says, “So finding them in the February sky can be a pretty neat way to connect with our own cosmic origins.”

BONUS TIP: We’re being visited by a comet that last zipped by 50,000 years ago, and yes, it’s possible to view it.

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Trevor Mogg
Contributing Editor
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