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Hal Kibbey

Last modified: Thursday, January 31, 2013

Star Trak: February 2013

Jan. 31, 2013

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- As the evening sky darkens during the first two weeks of February, Mercury will appear low in the west-southwest for observers at mid-northern latitudes. Binoculars may be needed to find it in the glare of twilight, but it should be visible a half-hour after sunset at the start of the month.


Photo courtesy of NASA


Print-Quality Photo

Each day it will climb a little higher, and on Feb. 8 it will pass just above pale orange Mars. Mercury will be eight times brighter than Mars. Mercury's visibility will continue to improve until Feb. 16, when it will be at greatest elongation from the sun and appear 11 degrees above the west-southwestern horizon. Afterward it will drop back toward the sun, disappearing into bright twilight by month's end.

Mars will be visible only with binoculars near the west-southwestern horizon during the first half of February. By mid-month it will be lost in the glow of evening twilight.

As the evening sky darkens, Jupiter will come into view very high in the south, far brighter than any other point of light in the sky. It will slowly move away from the Pleiades star cluster and toward the bright orange star Aldebaran as the month advances. The giant planet will set after 2:30 a.m. local time at the beginning of the month and around 1 a.m. by month's end.

As Jupiter is dropping low in the west, Saturn will appear above the eastern horizon. The yellow-orange object will be visible by midnight local time at the beginning of February and two hours earlier at month's end. It will be highest in the south as morning twilight begins, the best time for viewing with a telescope. Saturn will outshine the bright white star Spica to its right (west). Its spectacular rings will be tilted 19 degrees to our line of sight, the maximum for this year.

Saturn's largest moon, the planet-sized Titan, can be seen with any telescope on a clear night. Titan will be north of Saturn on Feb. 9 and 25 and south of the planet on Feb. 16. Visit NASA's Cassini website for the latest news and images from the Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn.

Venus will disappear into the glow of morning twilight at the beginning of February and won't return to view in the evening sky until May.

Moon phases

The moon will be at third quarter on Feb. 3, new on Feb. 10, at first quarter on Feb. 17 and full on Feb. 25.