The Night Sky This Month: February 2022

Orion

Lying on the celestial equator, Orion is the most recognizable constellation in the heavens throughout the world. Furthermore, there’s no better time to observe Orion than in February’s early evening sky, as well as the more than a dozen prominent constellations that surround The Hunter.

Other easy targets to look for in February include the planets Venus and Mars, which will draw ever closer to each other as the month progresses. Meanwhile, the full moon occurs on the 16th, also known as the Snow Moon, after the abundant snowfall that North America usually experiences at this time of the year.

The Moon Phases in February 2022

New Moon First Quarter Full Moon Last Quarter
February 1st February 8th February 16th February 23rd

The Planets in February 2022

Below are some details of what to expect of the planets during February 2022 –

Mercury is now an early morning object as it approaches its point of greatest western elongation from the Sun. However, the planet will not be visible for observers north of London throughout the month since it will reach its highest elevation (one degree above the horizon) during daylight hours.

Venus is also approaching its point of greatest western elongation from the Sun and is, therefore, an early morning object, rising as it does about 2 hours or so before dawn. Unlike Mercury, though, Venus will reach an elevation of about 13 degrees above the south-southeastern horizon before becoming lost in the brightening sky from about 07:14 (GMT). Note though that by month’s end, Venus will become lost in the brightening sky at about 06:25 (GMT)

Mars had recently passed behind the Sun, and as a result, it is not visible for most northern observers since it will reach its highest elevation of 5 degrees above the horizon during daylight hours throughout February.

Jupiter will soon pass behind the Sun to reach a point of solar conjunction, but the ‘King of the Planets’ is still visible for about two hours at an elevation  14 degrees above the south-western horizon from about 17:11 (GMT), during the first week or so of the month. Note that by month’s end, Jupiter will be within four degrees of the Sun, and will not be visible for most of the month.

Saturn is now emerging from behind the Sun, but it is within 3 degrees of the Sun at the start of the month. As a result, the planet will not be observable because it will remain just below the horizon at dawn throughout the month.

Meteor Showers in February 2022

No significant meteor activity is expected to occur during February 2022. The next significant meteor activity will occur on the night of April 21st/22nd, when the Lyrids meteor shower is expected to peak. Note, though, that the Moon will be 67% full during the peak, which will extinguish all but the brightest fireballs, which are a notable feature of the Lyrids.

Deep Sky Objects to Look for in February 2022

Seasonal constellations that are prominent at this time of the year include Auriga, Gemini,  Canis Major, Canis Minor, Taurus, and of course, Orion which is still well placed for observing during February. While all of these constellations contain a variety of spectacular objects that are easy targets for modest amateur equipment, Orion is often underappreciated for the large number of nebulae it contains. In fact, most of Orion is embedded in an enormous area of nebulosity, with Barnard’s Loop perhaps being the most conspicuous part of this nebulosity. Below are some details of nebulae in Orion, other than the Orion Nebula, that are easy to find with small to medium telescopes at low magnification-

Messier 78 (M78, NGC 2068)

Image credit: ESO/Igor Chekalin
Image credit: ESO/Igor Chekalin

Located about 1,600 light years away, this magnitude 8.3 reflection nebula is easy to find even with small telescopes. Although the nebula reflects the light of stars that surround it, two magnitude-10 stars are embedded in its heart, lighting it up from within. The nebula also contains several 45 T Tauri type variable stars, which are stars at various stages in the process of forming.

De Mairan’s Nebula – Messier 43 (M43, NGC 1982)

Image credit: NASA, ESA, M. Robberto (Space Telescope Science Institute / ESA / Hubble Space Telescope Orion Treasury Project Team
Image credit: NASA, ESA, M. Robberto (Space Telescope Science Institute / ESA / Hubble Space Telescope Orion Treasury Project Team

Located about 1,600 light years away, this magnitude 9.0 nebula is named after its discoverer, astronomer and geophysicist Jean-Jacques Dortous de Mairan, who first catalogued it in 1731. While this view might appear to show two separate nebulae, De Mairan’s Nebula is, in fact, a part of the larger Orion Nebula, shown to the lower right in this view. The dark lane of dust shown here is a separate structure between us, and the Orion Nebula, which creates the appearance of two separate nebulae.

Look for this nebula about seven minutes of arc to the northward of the Trapezium Cluster, which is the Orion Nebula’s most prominent feature.

V380 Orionis & NGC 1999

V380 Orionis & NGC 1999
Image credit: NASA / Hubble Heritage Team

This image shows the bright, A0-class star V380 near the centre of the reflection nebula NGC 1999, which is located about 1,000 light years away, and in this view, the star seems to be perched on the edge of an almost keyhole-shaped black patch. Unlike most other black patches, which are often dense clouds of dust and gas that block the light of stars behind them, this particular black patch is empty in the sense that it does not contain meaningful amounts of matter.

The reason for this absence of matter is still unclear, but one current theory suggests that the combined solar winds of nearby stars (not shown here) might have carved the hole out of the surrounding nebula.

 

Related Articles