The planets of the solar system put eye-catching shows in the past few months. It all started with the perigee of Mars in October 2020, followed by the Great Conjunction on December 21, and ended with Jupiter, Saturn, and Mercury’s rare triple conjunction on Jan 10-11. As seen from the Earth, four of the five planets visible with naked eyes are clustered around the Sun, hidden in its glare. Hence, the second month of 2021 has little planetary activity in its store. But don’t be disappointed. There are few if not many reasons to look up in the sky in February this year.
Top astronomical events in February 2021
February 4 – Moon at perigee
The Moon will reach the closest point along its orbit to the Earth and appear slightly larger than at other times. The moon will be at its last quarter on February 4. If the Moon happens to be at its full phase on perigee, it’s known as a Supermoon. There will be four Supermoons in 2021: On March 28, April 27, May 26, and June 24.
February 8 – α-Centaurid meteor shower
Active between January 28 and February 21, the α-Centaurid meteor shower will reach its peak activity on February 8. This will be the last meteor shower in the coming few weeks. Every meteor shower has a radiant point associated with it. It’s a special point from where all the streaks appear to originate. A meteor shower is named after the constellation in which its radiant lies: for example, Geminids (Gemini), Orionids (Orion), Taurids (Taurus), etc. A meteor shower produces its best displays when its radiant is well up in the sky.
The radiant of the α-Centaurids lies in the constellation of Centaurus. This means observers in the Southern Hemisphere have the best opportunity to see the shooting stars. You can expect up to 6 bright meteors per hour under clear skies, flying at 56 km/s. As Andrew Fazekas from the National Geographic notes, these rates can sporadically increase to about 25 meteors an hour. You don’t have to stare at the radiant point. The meteors can appear anywhere in the sky. However, they will appear moving away from Centaurus.
Look for meteors to start falling after local dusk and before dawn the next day.
February 10 – Moon meets Saturn
On February 10, the 28-day old Moon will pass 3°24′ to the south of Saturn in the constellation of Capricornus. Because of their proximity to the Sun, the pair will be hardly visible as they won’t be higher than 6 degrees above the horizon.
February 12 – New Moon
The second New Moon of 2021: A chance to observe faint star clusters and galaxies. The Moon will pass too close to the Sun and be unobservable for a couple of days.
February 18 – Moon at apogee
The Moon will reach the most distant point along its orbit to the Earth and will appear slightly smaller than at other times.
February 19 – Moon passes Mars
On February 19, the 7-day old Moon will pass 3°41′ to the south of Mars in the constellation of Aries. Look for them near the zenith as the dusk sky fades. The pair will be too widely separated to fit in a telescopic view. Mercury will be at an apparent magnitude of 0.8 and easily visible with naked eyes. You can download these space apps to locate the planets quickly.
February 20 – Star cluster NGC 3114
As seen from most parts of the world, the open star cluster NGC 3114 will be placed well, high in the sky. The cluster will reach its highest point in the sky around midnight local time. It lies in Carina, a constellation of the Southern Skies. Carina is dominated by Canopus, the second brightest star in the night sky. The map below shows how to spot NGC 3114 from Australia. At a magnitude of 4.2, it will appear as a fuzzy patch under perfectly dark skies.
February 27 – Snow Moon
The second Full Moon of 2021, the February Full Moon is also called the Snow Moon. At this time in its monthly cycle of phases, the Moon lies almost directly opposite the Sun in the sky, placing it high above the horizon for much of the night. The next four Full Moons in a row will be supermoons!
You may also like to read:
- Ever Wondered How We Are Still In Contact With Old Spacecraft Billions of Miles Away?
- Where Are The Aliens? The Fermi Paradox and Its Possible Explanations.
- These Are The 5 Most Promising Worlds For Alien Life In The Solar System.
February 28 – Mercury at its highest point
On the last day of the month, Mercury will reach its highest point in its February–April 2021 morning apparition. It will be shining brightly at mag 0.1. It won’t be tricky to observe the tiny planet as it will be about 16 degrees above the horizon at sunrise.
This month’s planet round-up
On February 10, Mercury will be at inferior solar conjunction. This means Mercury and Earth will be on the same side of the solar system. This marks the transition of Mercury from an evening to a morning object. So, the first half of the month will not be a good time to see the solar system’s tiniest planet. Mercury will be hidden in the Sun’s glare as it will pass too close to it. The planet will begin to reappear in the morning skies, reaching its peak altitude above the horizon of February 28 in Capricornus.
Venus will soon pass behind the Sun. Currently, the planet is unobservable at it reaches an altitude of just 4 degrees before it is lost to the morning twilight. Venus will be at its superior solar conjunction on March 26. On this occasion, Venus will lie on the opposite side of the Earth and will remain hidden in the Sun’s glare for several weeks.
Mars is the only planet that will remain visible with naked eyes throughout February 2021. It is now an early evening object. Look for the planet about 76 degrees above the South-Western horizon as the dusk sky fades. The red planet sets in about an hour after midnight. As compared to the previous months, Mars has faded significantly as it has receded away from the Earth. In October 2021, the planet will be at its apogee – the farthest point from us. Hence, as months pass by, Mars will become fainter.
Jupiter passed behind the Sun on January 29. The planet is still close to the Sun and will remain unobservable in February. Jupiter and Saturn will become pre-dawn objects easily visible with naked eyes in the coming months.
Saturn passed behind the Sun on January 28. Just like Jupiter, it is lost in the Sun’s glare and will become visible the next few weeks. Toward the end of February, the planet can be seen as a faint speck in the morning sky but it will be quite difficult to locate with naked eyes. Jupiter, Saturn, and Mercury will be lost to the morning twilight in February’s last week.
Having recently passed its opposition on Halloween last year, Uranus is currently an early evening object, now receding into evening twilight. It becomes accessible as the dusk sky fades, 69° above the south-western horizon. It then sinks about half an hour after midnight. At a magnitude of 5.79, Uranus currently lies in Aries. You’ll need a telescope to spot this planet.
Neptune is approaching its solar conjunction. It will pass behind the Sun in March. The windy planet can be seen through a telescope for a couple of hours after sunset in the constellation of Aquarius.
Full Astronomy Calendar 2021
Don’t forget to watch this video that contains all the major astronomical events in 2021!