Think you can’t find planets, identify bright stars, or find constellations you may want to give this a try. No star maps, you just need to find the Moon. The best times to look are 30 minutes after sunset or when the Moon in is the morning sky about an hour before sunrise.
This month (Feb. 2013) the Moon will pass by the planets Jupiter, Saturn, Mars, and Mercury. The bright stars to see are Aldebaran, Rigel, Betelgeuse, Sirius, Procyon, Pollux, Castor, Capella, Spica, Antares, and Regulus. We say good-by this month to the constellation Aquarius and welcome the constellation Sagittarius.
This is set up for Aurora, Colorado (Mountain Time). Things will be slightly different depending on your location, but close enough for finding the planets and bright stars easily.
Start observing 60 minutes before sunrise
On February 1 the Moon is in the constellation Virgo the virgin. To left of the Moon is Spica the brightest star in Virgo. To the left of Spica is Saturn. Saturn, Spica, and the Moon form a line.
On February 2 the Moon moves between Saturn (left) and Spica (right)
On February 3 the Moon enters the constellation Libra the scales. There are no bright stars in Libra. Saturn is above and to the right of the Moon. Above the Moon and Saturn nearly over head is the bright star Arcturus in Bootes the herdsman. The Moon’s phase is third (or last) quarter. At this phase the Moon is approximately in the same place in space the Earth and you will be in 3.5 hours. Note how the Moon will thin and plunge toward the rising sun in the next six days.
On February 4 the Moon moves into the constellation Scorpius the scorpion. The Moon sits above and to the right of the bright star Antares a red super giant. See if you can detect the red hue. If Antares were the Sun the Earth and Mars would be orbiting inside of it.
On February 5 the Moon move below and to the left of the bright star Antares,
On February 6-7 the Moon is in the constellation Sagittarius the archer. Sagittarius points the way to the center of our galaxy, the Milky Way. The Moon will start to be affected by the glare of the rising Sun.
On February 10 the Moon is new rising and setting with the Sun. The Moon has moved from the morning side of the Sun to the evening side of the Sun. The Moon will be difficult to see in the glare of the setting Sun for the next few days.
Observe just after sunset (5:55PM MST)
On February 11 the Moon will be a very thin crescent setting in the West. Below the Moon will be Mars (lower) and Mercury (upper). All three will be a challenge to see. Binoculars will help. Between Mercury and Mars is the planet Neptune. You can’t see it but that’s where it is. Note Mars and Mercury will have both set by 6:30pm MST.
Observe 30 to 60 minutes after sunset
On February 12-14 the Moon is in the constellation Pisces the fishes. There are no noticeably bright stars are in Pisces.
On February 15-16 the Moon is in the constellation Aries the ram. There are no bright stars in Aries. The bright star to the left is Jupiter.
On February 17 the Moon is in the constellation Taurus the bull. Jupiter is next to and left of the Moon. The star Aldebaran, the brightest star in Taurus, is below Jupiter. This is a repeat of Jupiter/Moon pairing which took place on January 21. Directly above the Moon is a small cluster of stars called Pleiades. It’s worth a look with binoculars. If you own a Subaru the Pleiades is your car’s emblem.
On February 18 the Moon passes underneath Jupiter moving to the left of Jupiter and Aldebaran.
On February 19 the Moon is still in Taurus, and in the center of all the brightest stars in the winter sky. To the upper right (2 o’clock position) is Jupiter (upper) and Aldebaran (lower). To the lower right (5 o’clock position) are the bright stars Rigel (lower) a blue giant, and Betelgeuse (upper) a red giant in the constellation of Orion. Between Rigel and Betelgeuse are the three stars of Orion’s belt, Mintaka (left), Alnilam (Center) and Alnitak (Right). Below the Moon (6 o’clock position) is Sirius, the Dog Star, in Canis Major the large dog. Sirius is the brightest star in the night sky. To the lower left (8 o’clock position) is Procyon in Canis Minor the little dog. To the left of the Moon are Pollux (lower) and Castor (upper) the twins in the constellation Gemini. Above the Moon (12 o’clock) is star Capella, the goat star, in the constellation Auriga, the charioteer.
On February 20-21 the Moon moves into the constellation Gemini. On February 21 the Moon will be above Procyon and below Pollux (lower) and Castor (upper) the Gemini twins.
On February 22-23 the Moon moves into the constellation of Cancer, the crab. There are no noticeably bright stars in Cancer. On February 23 the Moon will be approximately half way between is Procyon in Canis Minor (upper right) and Regulus in the constellation Leo (lower left)
On February 24-25 the Moon will be in the constellation Leo. Regulus will be to the left of a very bright moon. On the February 25 the Moon is full and below Regulus. The Moon moves into the morning sky. For more detailed information about this month’s full moon including names go here. For those weary of winter seeing Leo rising in the east in the early evening is a sign spring is on its way.
Observe 60 minutes before sunrise
On February 27-28 the Moon is Virgo with its bright star Spica. On February 28 the Moon has returned to the position where it started at the beginning of the month completing one lunar orbit. To upper left of the Moon is Spica. To the upper left of Spica is Saturn.
Wishing you clear skies