February offers a last chance to spot Jupiter before it takes a break from the post-sunset sky, according to NASA’s top tips for skywatching this month. The coming weeks also offer an opportunity to witness a very bright Venus, and to view a star-forming cloud more than 1,000 light-years from Earth — all visible with the naked eye.
With Saturn and Venus recently disappearing from view, Jupiter is currently the only planet visible in the twilight skies. But toward the end of February, that’ll vanish, too. So catch it while you can.
To view Jupiter, look low in the western sky shortly after sunset, though be aware that by mid-February the planet will already be setting just an hour after the sun goes down.
When Jupiter departs, our twilight skies will be devoid of naked-eye planets for the first time since 2018. Planets will start to pop up again in August with Saturn rising in the east around sunset, though NASA points out that there’s a short period in April and May when you may be able to see Mercury as it appears briefly above the horizon. As for Jupiter, it’ll return in April, but as a morning planet.
If you’re an early riser, February offers a great chance to spot Venus, with its brightness over the next four weeks peaking in the middle of the month. It rises at around 4 a.m. and can be spotted low in the southeast until sunrise.
“Venus is the brightest of all the planets in our solar system because of the highly reflective clouds that completely cover its globe,” NASA explains, adding that its brightness viewed from Earth depends on both the planet’s distance and phase.
The space agency also recommended looking out for a trio formation comprising Venus, the moon, and Mars on the morning of February 26.
The Orion Nebula — also known as the Great Nebula — is a massive cloud of gas and dust that’s host to the birth of new stars. In fact, at around 1,500 light-years from Earth, the Great Nebula is the closest large star-forming region to our solar system.
“The bright, central region of the Orion Nebula is a giant cavity in the cloud being carved out by the intense ultraviolet light from a handful of extremely massive young stars,” NASA said.
To spot the Orion Nebula, start by locating the three stars of the hunter’s belt, and then the stars that hang below it forming Orion’s sword. These astronomy apps can help you find the hunter’s belt if you’re not sure how it looks.
NASA says that in the center of this line of stars, the nebula is the place in the center that looks “kind of fuzzy.”
You can see it with the naked eye, though binoculars will of course give you a clearer view. Even better, NASA said that if you can look at it through a telescope, “it’s a sight you’ll never forget.”
- NASA’s skywatching tips for September include rare glimpse of ‘zodiacal light’
- NASA’s skywatching tips for July feature stars called Regulus and Fomalhaut
- NASA’s June skywatching tips include Mars in the Beehive
- NASA’s IXPE mission gets an X-ray view of the famous Crab Nebula
- Check out NASA’s skywatching tips for April