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Excuse Me While I Kiss the Sky -- Month of February 2024

Posted by Guy Pirro   02/06/2024 08:56PM

Excuse Me While I Kiss the Sky -- Month of February 2024

Discovered by the German astronomer Johann Elert Bode in 1774, M81 is one of the brightest galaxies in the night sky. It is located 11.6 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Ursa Major and has an apparent magnitude of 6.9. Through a pair of binoculars, the galaxy appears as a faint patch of light in the same field of view as M82. A small telescope will resolve M81’s core. The galaxy is best observed during April. The galaxy’s spiral arms, which wind all the way down into its nucleus, are made up of young, bluish, hot stars formed in the past few million years. They also host a population of stars formed in an episode of star formation that started about 600 million years ago. Ultraviolet light from hot, young stars is fluorescing the surrounding clouds of hydrogen gas. A number of sinuous dust lanes also wind all the way into the nucleus of M81. The galaxy’s central bulge contains much older, redder stars. It is significantly larger than the Milky Way’s bulge. A black hole of 70 million solar masses resides at the center of M81 and is about 15 times the mass of the Milky Way’s central black hole. This image was captured with a Takahashi FRC-300 using a focal reducer (1770mm at f/5.9) [Video and Content Credits: NASA, the Office of Public Outreach – Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) and JPL – Caltech, Preston Dyches, Christopher Harris, and Lisa Poje with subject matter guidance provided by Bill Dunford, Gary Spiers, Lyle Tavernier, and Molly Wasser] [Image Credit:  Stephen Roffo, Astromart Gallery Contributor - , ]


Excuse Me While I Kiss the Sky -- Month of February 2024

Welcome to the night sky report for February 2024 -- Your guide to the constellations, deep sky objects, planets, and celestial events that are observable during the month. Venus is beginning its exit from the morning skies this month, just as Mars returns to visibility. In February, the Winter Triangle is your guide to the night sky. The northern hemisphere is treated to views of the stars Procyon, Sirius, and Betelgeuse, as well as awe-inspiring views of the Great Orion Nebula (M42, NGC 1976), sculpted by the stellar winds of central bright stars as well as Bode’s Galaxy (M81, NGC 3031). The night sky is truly a celestial showcase. Get outside and explore its wonders from your own backyard.

Venus is still a brilliant beacon in the morning, rising a couple of hours before the Sun. It has been steadily sinking lower in the sky for the past couple of months and by the end of February it's pretty much getting lost in the light of sunrise.

Venus will start making its return as an evening sight in July. You can catch the bright planet together with a slim crescent Moon on the morning of February 6th, just as the sky starts to brighten.

Next, Valentine's Day brings a nice pairing to enjoy with someone special. That evening, look for the crescent Moon near Jupiter, high in the southwest following sunset. They're just a couple of finger widths apart on the sky, meaning most binoculars will show them in the same field of view.

Returning to the inner planets, as Venus begins its exit, we find Mars returning to view. The Red Planet left the evening sky last September, passing through conjunction, where it was on the opposite side of the Sun from Earth, and thus not visible for a few months. It's now just starting to be visible in the predawn sky. In February it's quite low, and not super bright, but you can observe it brightening and rising ever earlier in the coming months. Those with an unobstructed view toward the southeast horizon can look for a close approach of Mars and Venus as the pair are rising during the last week of February.



February is a good time to view one of the famed Messier objects known as M81.

This is a spiral galaxy similar to our own Milky Way, but just a bit smaller, and it's one of the brightest galaxies in the night sky. It's located about 11.8 million light years away from us, which means that when you observe it, the photons of light hitting your eye have been traveling through space for more than 11 million years to reach you.

It was discovered by astronomer Johann Bode in 1774, which is where it gets its other common name, "Bode's Galaxy." At the time, it was simply cataloged as a nebula or faint, fuzzy patch. It wouldn't be until the work of Edwin Hubble in the 1920s that many such faint, fuzzy objects were understood to be self-contained galaxies of stars outside the Milky Way and incredibly distant from us.

M81 is a bit too dim to see with the unaided eye, but it's visible with binoculars or a small telescope, where it appears as a dim patch of light. With a 6-inch telescope you can resolve the galaxy's bright core, and with an 8-inch telescope, you can begin to make out the spiral arms.

Locating M81 is not too difficult, with the Big Dipper to guide you. Starting with the star on the end corner, called Dubhe, imagine a line twice the distance from the star on the opposite corner of the Dipper, Phecda. Pointing your telescope or binoculars in that area ought to put you pretty close to M81. You might also notice its faint, fuzzy companion nearby, which is M82. This is another galaxy, but seen edge-on, and it gets its other common name, the "Cigar Galaxy," from this appearance.

This pair of galaxies is "circumpolar" in the Northern Hemisphere, meaning that they rotate around the north celestial pole and never set. (Unfortunately, this means they're not visible from the Southern Hemisphere.) Although it's visible all year in the Northern Hemisphere, from about February through May, you'll find M81 high in the northern sky in the first half of the night, making it easier to observe.

The brightly starred winter sky beckons on the clear, cold nights of February. Orion, the hunter of Greek mythology, dominates the heavens with a bright belt of three stars. The hunter’s shoulder is marked by the red supergiant Betelgeuse, a massive star nearing the end of its life.

Betelgeuse is roughly 1000 times the size of our sun. An image from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope shows its huge atmosphere with an enormous, mysterious spot, glowing brightly in ultraviolet light. Hubble’s sharp vision allows astronomers to monitor features of the star’s atmosphere and better understand how it changes over time.

Marking Orion’s foot is another bright, hot supergiant: blue-white Rigel. Massive stars like Rigel lead short, brilliant lives. Below Orion’s shining belt lies the Orion Nebula, a hazy spot to the naked eye. A small telescope reveals it to be a diffuse, glowing cloud in space, illuminated by the energy of bright, hot stars in its center.



February is also a perfect time to enjoy the Great Nebula in Orion. The Great Orion Nebula is an enormous cloud of gas and dust where thousands of stars are being born. In fact, it's the nearest large star-forming region to our Solar System, at around 1500 light-years away. 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. 

Finding the Orion Nebula is easy on February nights, as the constellation Orion will be high in the south around 8:00 or 9:00 PM. Look for the three stars of the hunter's belt and then find the stars that hang below it forming Orion's sword. In the center of this line of stars is one that looks kind of fuzzy. That's the nebula. It's visible to the unaided eye under relatively dark skies, and is easily seen with binoculars as a faint haze. And through a telescope, it's a sight you'll never forget.

NASA’s Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes reveal the nebula in festoons of glowing gas and dust, sculpted by the stellar winds of central bright stars. The Orion Nebula is an immense stellar nursery, filled with hot young stars that glow brightly in X-ray light detected by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory.

Follow the belt of Orion down and left to find blue-white Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky. Sirius lies in the constellation Canis Major, the Great Dog and companion to Orion. Sirius is also one of the nearest stars, just 8.6 light-years away, and has a faint white dwarf companion star.

Just below Sirius lies a star cluster called M41 (NGC 2287). It is easily seen with a pair of binoculars as a scattered twinkling. M41 consists of about 100 stars that formed together from a giant cloud of gas and dust.

Above and left of Sirius is another bright star, a yellowish giant named Procyon. Procyon is part of the constellation Canis Minor, the smaller dog and Orion’s second companion. Procyon, Sirius, and Betelgeuse form a geometrical pattern called the Winter Triangle.

The night sky is always a celestial showcase. Explore its wonders from your own backyard.

The following Deep Sky Objects are found in constellations that peak during the month. Some can be viewed with a small telescope, but the majority will require a moderate to large telescope. The following is adapted from my personal viewing list: "The Guy Pirro 777 Best and Brightest Deep Sky Objects."


Constellation: Cancer

NGC 2632                    Open Cluster               M44 Beehive Cluster

NGC 2682                    Open Cluster               M67

NGC 2775                    Galaxy                         C48, Herschel 400 H2-1


Constellation: Canis Major

IC 468                          Diffuse Nebula             P132

IC 2165                        Planetary Nebula        P133

NGC 2204                    Open Cluster               Herschel 400 H13-7

NGC 2207                    Galaxy                         P216

- IC 2163                 Galaxy                              - Interacting with P216

NGC 2217                    Galaxy                         P72

NGC 2243                    Open Cluster               P134

NGC 2287                    Open Cluster               M41

NGC 2345                    Open Cluster               P73

NGC 2354                    Open Cluster               Herschel 400 H16-7

NGC 2359                    Diffuse Nebula             P20 Thor’s Helmet

NGC 2360                    Open Cluster               C58, Herschel 400 H12-7

NGC 2362                    Open Cluster               C64, Herschel 400 H17-7 Tau Canis Major Cluster

NGC 2367                    Open Cluster               P74

NGC 2374                    Open Cluster               P75

NGC 2383                    Open Cluster               P135

NGC 2384                    Open Cluster               P76


Constellation: Canis Minor



Constellation: Lynx

NGC 2419                    Globular Cluster          C25, Herschel 400 H218-1

NGC 2683                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H200-1

NGC 2782                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H167-1


Constellation: Orion

IC 434                          Diffuse Nebula            P92 Horsehead Nebula

NGC 1662                    Open Cluster               P39

NGC 1788                    Diffuse Nebula             Herschel 400 H32-5

NGC 1976                    Diffuse Nebula             M42 Great Orion Nebula

NGC 1977                    Open Cluster               P40 Running Man Nebular Cluster

     - NGC 1973             Diffuse Nebula                             - Part of P40

     - NGC 1975             Diffuse Nebula                             - Part of P40

NGC 1980                    Open Cluster               Herschel 400 H31-5

NGC 1981                    Open Cluster               P41

NGC 1982                    Diffuse Nebula             M43 DeMairan Nebula

NGC 1999                    Diffuse Nebula             Herschel 400 H33-4

NGC 2022                    Diffuse Nebula             Herschel 400 H34-4

NGC 2023                    Diffuse Nebula              P93

NGC 2024                    Diffuse Nebula              Herschel 400 H28-5 Flame Nebula

NGC 2039                    Open Cluster               P94

NGC 2068                    Diffuse Nebula             M78

NGC 2071                    Diffuse Nebula              P42

NGC 2112                    Open Cluster               P170

NGC 2141                    Open Cluster               P171

NGC 2143                    Open Cluster               P172

NGC 2169                    Open Cluster               Herschel 400 H24-8

NGC 2175                    Open Cluster               P43

     - NGC 2174             Diffuse Nebula                             - Part of P43

     - IC 2159                 Diffuse Nebula                             - Part of P43

NGC 2186                    Open Cluster               Herschel 400 H25-7

NGC 2194                    Open Cluster               Herschel 400 H5-6


Constellation: Puppis

NGC 2298                    Globular Cluster          P98

NGC 2396                    Open Cluster               P99

NGC 2409                    Open Cluster               P100

NGC 2414                    Open Cluster               P101

NGC 2421                    Open Cluster               Herschel 400 H67-7

NGC 2422                    Open Cluster               M47, Herschel 400 H38-8

NGC 2423                    Open Cluster               Herschel 400 H28-7

NGC 2432                    Open Cluster               P241

NGC 2437                    Open Cluster               M46

NGC 2438                    Planetary Nebula        Herschel 400 H39-4 Part of M46

NGC 2439                    Open Cluster               P46

NGC 2440                    Planetary Nebula        Herschel 400 H64-4

NGC 2447                    Open Cluster               M93

NGC 2451                    Open Cluster               P47

NGC 2453                    Open Cluster               P176

NGC 2455                    Open Cluster               P242

NGC 2467                    Open Cluster               P102

NGC 2477                    Open Cluster               C71

NGC 2479                    Open Cluster               Herschel 400 H58-7

NGC 2482                    Open Cluster               Herschel 400 H10-7

NGC 2483                    Open Cluster               P103

NGC 2489                    Open Cluster               Herschel 400 H23-7

NGC 2509                    Open Cluster               Herschel 400 H1-8

NGC 2527                    Open Cluster               Herschel 400 H30-8

NGC 2533                    Open Cluster               P104

NGC 2539                    Open Cluster               Herschel 400 H11-7

NGC 2546                    Open Cluster               P48

NGC 2567                    Open Cluster               Herschel 400 H64-7

NGC 2568                    Open Cluster               P177

NGC 2571                    Open Cluster               Herschel 400 H39-6

NGC 2579                    Open Cluster               P105

NGC 2580                    Open Cluster               P178

NGC 2587                    Open Cluster               P179

NGC 2588                    Open Cluster               P243


Constellation: Pyxis

NGC 2613                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H266-2

NGC 2627                    Open Cluster               Herschel 400 H63-7

NGC 2635                    Open Cluster               P244

NGC 2658                    Open Cluster               P180

NGC 2818                    Planetary Nebula           P245


Constellation: Ursa Major

Messier 40                  Double Star                 M40 Winnecke 4

IC 2574                        Galaxy                         P121 Coddington’s Dwarf Galaxy

NGC 2681                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H242-1

NGC 2742                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H249-1

NGC 2768                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H250-1

NGC 2787                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H216-1

NGC 2841                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H205-1

NGC 2950                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H68-4

NGC 2976                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H285-1

NGC 2985                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H78-1

     - NGC 3027             Galaxy                              - Paired with H78-1

NGC 3031                    Galaxy                         M81 – Bode’s Galaxy

NGC 3034                    Galaxy                         M82, Herschel 400 H79-4 Cigar Galaxy

NGC 3077                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H286-1

NGC 3079                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H47-5

NGC 3184                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H168-1

NGC 3198                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H199-1

NGC 3310                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H60-4

NGC 3556                    Galaxy                         M108 Herschel 400 H46-5

NGC 3359                    Galaxy                         P202

NGC 3587                    Planetary Nebula        M97 Owl Nebula

NGC 3610                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H270-1

NGC 3613                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H271-1 Paired with H244-1

NGC 3619                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H244-1 Paired with H271-1

NGC 3631                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H226-1

NGC 3665                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H219-1

     - NGC 3658             Galaxy                              - Paired with H219-1

NGC 3675                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H194-1

NGC 3726                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H730-2

NGC 3729                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H222-1

     - NGC 3718             Galaxy                              - Paired with H222-1

NGC 3813                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H94-1

NGC 3877                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H201-1

NGC 3893                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H738-2

     - NGC 3896             Galaxy                              - Paired with H738-2

NGC 3898                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H228-1

NGC 3938                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H203-1

NGC 3941                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H173-1

NGC 3945                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H251-1

NGC 3949                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H202-1

NGC 3953                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H45-5

NGC 3982                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H62-4

NGC 3992                    Galaxy                         M109, Herschel 400 H61-4

NGC 3998                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H229-1

     - NGC 3990             Galaxy                              - Paired with H229-1

NGC 4026                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H223-1

NGC 4036                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H253-1 Paired with H252-1

NGC 4041                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H252-1 Paired with H253-1

NGC 4051                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H56-4

NGC 4085                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H224-1 Paired with H206-1

NGC 4088                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H206-1 Paired with H224-1

NGC 4102                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H225-1

NGC 4605                    Galaxy                         P252

NGC 5322                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H256-1

NGC 5457                    Galaxy                         M101 Pinwheel Galaxy

NGC 5474                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H214-1 Paired with M101

NGC 5473                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H231-1

NGC 5631                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H236-1


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