NASA has shared its top tips for what to spot in the sky over the coming weeks.
In a video (top) released this week, the space agency notes that the following days offer the final chance to see Venus in the morning sky until its reappearance in July as en evening planet. Of particular interest is the morning of February 6 (just as the sky begins to brighten) when you can enjoy the spectacle of Venus appearing close to a slim crescent moon.
On the evening of Valentine’s Day, NASA suggests looking 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,” the space agency says.
Making a return to the sky this month is Mars, whose most recent evening appearances ended in September. It disappeared behind the sun for a while, but it’s back and is 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,” NASA explains. “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.”
This month also offers a chance for those with binoculars or a telescope to identify Messier 81 (M81), a spiral galaxy similar to our own Milky Way, though a bit smaller.
Also known as Bode’s Galaxy, it’s located about 11.8 million light years away from us, so if you’re able to observe it, keep in mind that the photons of light hitting your eyes have been traveling through space for more than 11 million years to reach you.
With basic viewing equipment, M81 will appear as a dim patch of light but with more powerful tools you’ll be able to make out its bright core and spiral arms.
If you need help on singling out the planets and stars, then download one of these excellent astronomy apps that’ll speed up the process. And if you’re interested in taking your stargazing hobby to the next level and trying a spot of astrophotography — perhaps starting this month with Venus and Mars — then check out these telescopes, which include such an imaging feature.