Welcome to Ontario Parks’ “Eyes in the Skies” series. This “space” will cover a wide range of astronomy topics with a focus on what can be seen from the pristine skies found in our provincial parks.
The month of February promises warmer weather and clearer skies. So grab a cup of tea or hot chocolate, bundle up and spend the day outdoors.
And when the sun sets and the stars begin to shine, don’t forget to come back to enjoy the season’s beautiful night skies!
Here are our February astronomical highlights:
Sunrise and sunset times
|February 1||February 15||February 28|
|Sunrise||7:42 a.m.||7:26 a.m.||7:07 a.m.|
|One||12:44 p.m.||12:44 p.m.||12:43 p.m.|
|Sunset||17:45||6:03 p.m.||6:19 p.m.|
The moon has long captivated observers of all ages.
The lunar phases of the February moon occur as follows:
Did you know that many First Nations teachings, including those of the Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee people, use the back of a turtle’s shell as a lunar calendar?
The Planets – 2 Great Conjunctions
The planets Jupiter, Venus and Neptune offered an interesting spectacle in the last weeks of February, which culminated on March 1.
A conjunction is the occurrence when a planet passes (over time) to another planet. They do NOT have to approach each other, just pass each other. However, because most planets follow the Sun’s projected path across the sky (the Ecliptic), conjunctions often see close approaches from one planet to another.
Image of the planets Venus, Neptune and Jupiter on the night of February 15. Image courtesy of SkySafari Pro Version 6.0
This year, on February 15, low in the western/southwestern sky, we will be able to see the two brightest planets in our sky, Jupiter and Venus. However, on the night of February 15, with the use of binoculars or a small telescope you will see the planet Neptune quite close to the planet Venus.
Of course, these two planets are hundreds of millions of kilometers apart, but from our angle they appear to be close.
Conjunction of Venus and Neptune on the night of February 15. Image courtesy of SkySafari Pro Version 6.0
An even more spectacular conjunction will occur on the first afternoon of March. On the night of March 1, Venus and Jupiter will make a close approach conjunction. At that time, they will appear to be a little further apart than the width of the Full Moon.
Conjunction of Jupiter and Venus on the night of March 1. Image courtesy of SkySafari Pro Version 6.0
According to the discussion about Venus and Neptune, the planets are not actually approaching each other in outer space. Rather, it is just the appearance of the two planets as seen from Earth.
This is one of those times when the science of astronomy differs from the ancient ideas of astrology. In the early days of astrology, it was believed that the planets were actually close to each other, since it was unknown how the true configuration of the solar system was arranged.
Comets and meteor showers
February is a quiet month from a meteor shower perspective. However, observers can always see sporadic meteors (random or unidentified showers) as they occur.
On any given night, in the dark skies of provincial parks, between five and ten meteors can be seen per hour, especially after midnight.
Humans have looked at the stars for thousands of years. The stars helped them try to understand their purpose and the role they play in our lives.
To help memorize the different stars, many different cultures created connect-the-dot figure patterns. Today we recognize 88 official patterns or “constellations” of stars.
Orion remains the dominant constellation high in the southern skies. As shown in this photo, its three belt stars in a row are unmistakable. Much of the star formation occurs within the various gaseous nebulae that exist in this part of the sky.
There are many popular constellations associated with this time of year. Learn more about Gemini, One of our best options for February.
This completes our review of February skies.
Check back each month as we highlight celestial events throughout the seasons, or read more about astronomy in provincial parks.