Posted by: Jerry Garrett | January 6, 2012

Night Sky February 2012: Moon, Stars, Comets & Meteors

Space Potato: Earth has a close February encounter with the tumbling tuber, Eros. (NASA)

After the unexpected spectacular-ness of January’s Quadrantids meteor show, celestial happenings for February will seem somewhat anti-climactic. But that is not to say sky-watchers have no reason to look outside.

An especially bright full moon lights the skies on February 7, and a new moon occurs two weeks later.

It is during that time around the new moon that intrepid meteor watchers may be rewarded with a few random streakers. Best times to watch are an hour or two before dawn. In the right conditions, at least a half dozen falling stars can be expected per hour.

And, as always, the darker the skies, the better. Check out some of my earlier columns on where the darkest skies can be found!

Get out your binoculars for some comet-watching, particularly around February 14 and 15. Comet P/2006 T1 (Levy) will produce a fan-shaped glow will appear, because of solar reflections, to produce two tails. The month-long path of the comet is roughly along a line from Eridanus, past Canus Major, with the Milky Way as a backdrop. Comet C/2009 P1 (Garradd) heads north from Hercules during the month.

A month-long event: A fairly bright asteroid, Eros, will pass as close as 16 million miles from Earth (between the orbits of Earth and Mars) on January 31 and continue on past until March 1, within easy view of most backyard telescopes. Its path is roughly from Leo to Antlia. This is as close as Eros has been to the Earth in 37 years, astronomers tell me.

Another asteroid, Astraea, will slowly track through the skies near Virgo during the month.

The highlight of February star-gazing will happen February 25, when the crescent moon and Venus will be nearly touching. Look for this beautiful sight in the early evening sky.

Jerry Garrett

January 6, 2012

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