Mercury reached greatest elongation east on January 31st. On this day it was at magnitude -0.7, positioned 18 degrees from the Sun and visible towards the west just after sunset. For Northern Hemisphere observers, this is the most favourable evening apparition of the year and the planet remains visible into the first week of February. After this, it's more difficult to detect as it's lower down and quickly fades in brightness. From the Southern Hemisphere, Mercury is not well placed but observers may still be able to spot the planet extremely low down just after sunset at the beginning of the month.
The nearest planet to the Sun reaches inferior conjunction on February 15th. Towards the end of the month observers may be able to catch Mercury again, this time before sunrise low above the eastern horizon, although at magnitude +1.6 it will be tricky.
On February 1st, the very thin waxing crescent Moon passes 4 degrees north of Mercury in the evening sky. In the morning sky on February 27th, the very thin waning crescent Moon passes 3 degrees north of Mercury.
During January, Venus swapped from the evening to the morning sky and remains throughout February a dazzling morning object. During this time it's best seen from southern latitudes. For example, on February 1st from latitudes of 35S (approx. equal to Sydney, Cape Town and Santiago) Venus is 12 degrees above the eastern horizon, one hour before sunrise. At the end of the month this increases to 28 degrees.
It's not quite so good from northern latitudes. For example, from London, England (51.5N) Venus hovers just 8 or 9 degrees above the southeastern horizon, one hour before sunrise during February. From such latitudes, the relative position of Venus above the horizon hardly changes during the month.
Venus reaches maximum brilliance (mag. -4.7) on February 15th and later on the 26th, the waning crescent Moon passes 0.4 degrees north of Venus with an occultation visible from central Africa.
Mars is now well established in the morning skies as it heads towards opposition in April. The planet spends the month in Virgo, starting 5 degrees north of Spica (α Vir - mag +1.0), the constellation brightest star. It then continues it's eastwards direct motion against the fixed stars, although now moving much slower than in previous months.
The "Red planet" rises before midnight and telescopically it's becoming easier to spot the best features such as the North Pole cap, Syrtis Major and other dusty markings. With good seeing conditions it's possible to push up the telescope magnification as high as allowed to tease out surface markings.
On February 1st, Mars shines at magnitude +0.2 with an apparent diameter of 9 arc seconds. By the end of the month its brightness has improved to magnitude -0.5 and the apparent size to 11.5 arc seconds. The waning gibbous Moon passes 3 degrees south of Mars on February 20th.
Jupiter is a stunning beacon of light moving retrograde in the constellation of Gemini. Although, the giant planet is now past opposition (reached on January 5th) it's visible towards the east as soon as it's dark enough and remains visible for the majority of the night. The planet is located about 15 degrees southwest of the Gemini twins, Castor and Pollux and at magnitude -2.5, it's far brighter than any stars. Although it's apparent size is now decreasing, at the end of February it's still stands at a respectable 43 arc seconds.
The current declination of Jupiter favours Northern Hemisphere observers, but even from Southern Hemisphere latitudes where the planet appears much lower down, it's still unmistakable due to its brightness.
On February 11th, the waxing gibbous Moon passes 5 degrees south of Jupiter.
Saturn visibility period increases during February as it continues to move direct through Libra. The "Ringed planet" starts the month rising a couple of hours after midnight, improving to just after midnight by months end. During this time its brightness and apparent size increase from mag. +0.7 to +0.6 and 16.5 to 17.3 arc seconds respectively. With a declination of -16 degrees, the planet is much better placed for those at southern or tropical latitudes. From northern temperate locations, it remains low down and does not climb as high above the horizon.
Currently Saturn's rings are wide open and a fantastic telescope sight. Only a small refractor is required to see them with larger scopes showing the rings in supreme glory along with subtle details on the planet's surface and many of its brighter moons.
On February 21st, the waning gibbous Moon passes 0.3 degrees south of Saturn. An occultation is visible from most of Australia and New Zealand.
Uranus, mag. +5.9, remains an early evening object during February. The distant planet is located in Pisces, close to the Cetus border and southeast of the Great Square of Pegasus. At the start of the month, Uranus sets about 4 hours after the Sun but by months end this reduces to less than 3 hours. The planet is easily visible with binoculars once it's dark enough.
On February 3rd, the waxing crescent Moon passes 3 degrees north of Uranus.
Neptune reaches solar conjunction on February 23rd and therefore not visible this month.
Solar System Data Table February 2014
|Date||Right Ascension||Declination||Apparent Magnitude||Apparent Size||Illum. (%)||Distance from Earth (AU)||Constellation|
|Sun||5th Feb 2014||21h 13m 26.8s||-16d 04m 06.9s||-26.8||32.4'||100||0.986||Capricornus|
|Sun||15th Feb 2014||21h 53m 04.6s||-12d 50m 38.5s||-26.8||32.4'||100||0.988||Capricornus|
|Sun||25th Feb 2014||22h 31m 30.1s||-09d 16m 22.5s||-26.8||32.3'||100||0.990||Aquarius|
|Mercury||5th Feb 2014||22h 16m 53.4s||-09d 04m 01.9s||0.1||08.1"||32||0.834||Aquarius|
|Mercury||15th Feb 2014||21h 54m 59.6s||-08d 47m 30.9s||4.5||10.3"||01||0.651||Capricornus|
|Mercury||25th Feb 2014||21h 21m 07.3s||-12d 38m 32.8s||1.5||09.9"||17||0.681||Aquarius|
|Venus||5th Feb 2014||18h 56m 38.3s||-16d 00m 32.2s||-4.6||48.0"||17||0.348||Sagittarius|
|Venus||15th Feb 2014||19h 10m 30.8s||-16d 27m 03.8s||-4.7||40.6"||26||0.411||Sagittarius|
|Venus||25th Feb 2014||19h 35m 44.0s||-16d 40m 34.4s||-4.6||34.7"||33||0.481||Sagittarius|
|Mars||5th Feb 2014||13h 32m 45.6s||-06d 54m 45.9s||0.2||09.2"||92||1.019||Virgo|
|Mars||15th Feb 2014||13h 40m 42.3s||-07d 33m 39.4s||-0.1||10.1"||93||0.926||Virgo|
|Mars||25th Feb 2014||13h 45m 01.0s||-07d 52m 09.6s||-0.4||11.1"||94||0.840||Virgo|
|Jupiter||5th Feb 2014||06h 50m 40.4s||23d 07m 32.1s||-2.6||45.2"||100||4.361||Gemini|
|Jupiter||15th Feb 2014||06h 47m 18.7s||23d 12m 29.8s||-2.5||44.2"||100||4.465||Gemini|
|Jupiter||25th Feb 2014||06h 45m 16.0s||23d 15m 41.1s||-2.5||42.9"||99||4.590||Gemini|
|Saturn||5th Feb 2014||15h 23m 00.8s||-16d 12m 50.1s||0.7||16.7"||100||9.954||Libra|
|Saturn||15th Feb 2014||15h 24m 27.5s||-16d 16m 08.7s||0.7||17.0"||100||9.788||Libra|
|Saturn||25th Feb 2014||15h 25m 13.9s||-16d 16m 52.8s||0.6||17.3"||100||9.623||Libra|
|Uranus||5th Feb 2014||00h 35m 35.5s||03d 06m 48.9s||5.9||03.4"||100||20.603||Pisces|
|Uranus||15th Feb 2014||00h 37m 07.7s||03d 16m 57.7s||5.9||03.4"||100||20.732||Pisces|
|Uranus||25th Feb 2014||00h 38m 51.6s||03d 28m 17.8s||5.9||03.4"||100||20.841||Pisces|
|Neptune||5th Feb 2014||22h 25m 07.1s||-10d 36m 43.4s||8.0||02.2"||100||30.913||Aquarius|
|Neptune||15th Feb 2014||22h 26m 31.6s||-10d 28m 38.7s||8.0||02.2"||100||30.954||Aquarius|
|Neptune||25th Feb 2014||22h 27m 57.7s||-10d 20m 24.8s||8.0||02.2"||100||30.967||Aquarius|