Kiss the Sky Tonight -- Month of February 2022
Believed to be the cosmic fire of creation by the Maya of Mesoamerica, M42 blazes brightly in the constellation Orion. Popularly called the Orion Nebula, this stellar nursery has been known to many different cultures throughout human history. The nebula is only 1500 light-years away, making it the closest large star-forming region to Earth and giving it a relatively bright apparent magnitude of 4. Because of its brightness and prominent location just below Orion’s belt, M42 can be spotted with the naked eye, while offering an excellent peek at stellar birth for those with telescopes. This stunning Hubble image offers the sharpest view of the Orion Nebula ever obtained. Created using 520 different Hubble exposures taken in multiple wavelengths of light, this mosaic contains over one billion pixels. Hubble imaged most of the nebula, but ground-based images were used to fill in the gaps in its observations. The orange color in the image can be attributed to hydrogen, green represents oxygen, and the red represents both sulfur and observations made in infrared light. [Video and Content Credits: NASA, the Office of Public Outreach – Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), JPL – Caltech, Preston Dyches, Christopher Harris, and Lisa Poje] [Image Credit: NASA, ESA, M. Robberto (Space Telescope Science Institute/ESA) and the Hubble Space Telescope Orion Treasury Project Team].
Kiss the Sky Tonight -- Month of February 2022
Welcome to the night sky report for February 2022 -- Your guide to the constellations, deep sky objects, planets, and celestial events that are observable during the month. 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 Orion Nebula, sculpted by the stellar winds of central bright stars. Jupiter is the lone planet lingering in twilight skies after sunset in February. It exits the evening sky this month leaving no bright planets there until August (save for a brief appearance from Mercury in April). Also Venus is at peak brightness for the year in the mornings, and it's a great time to view the Orion Nebula.
With the departure of Saturn and Venus over the past two months, Jupiter is the only bright planet left in our twilight skies in February, and it's on its way out. The giant planet stands alone, low in the western sky after sunset in February. By mid-month, it's setting only about an hour after the Sun. Once Jupiter departs at the end of February, the post-sunset sky will be essentially devoid of naked-eye planets until August, when Saturn will start rising in the east around sunset. (There's a short period, though, in April and May when you might be able to spot Mercury as it pops briefly above the horizon.)
You'd have to go back four years, to March of 2018, to find twilight skies with no bright planets. Catch Jupiter before it's gone. And look for it to become a morning planet in April.
For the morning skies, the planet Venus will be at its brightest for the year in February, around mid-month. It rises with Mars around 4:00 AM and is visible 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.
But its brightness in our skies varies, depending on how far it is from Earth and on its phase. Venus is brightest not when it's closest to Earth, but when it's almost at its closest and still shows us a large, bright crescent phase.
So enjoy the crescent Venus that is the planet at its brightest. And look for Venus to form a trio with the Moon and Mars on the morning of February 26th.
The brightly starred winter sky beckons on 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 a perfect time to enjoy the Great Nebula in Orion. The 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 1,500 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 or 9 p.m. 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. 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."
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
NGC 2419 Globular Cluster C25, Herschel 400 H218-1
NGC 2683 Galaxy Herschel 400 H200-1
NGC 2782 Galaxy Herschel 400 H167-1
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
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
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
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