PASADENA, Ca. (NASA JPL) – February is a great month to spot Mercury, the smallest and fastest-moving planet. It reaches its highest point above the sunset horizon on February 16, when it appears 18 degrees from the sun.
On February 6th through the 10th, catch Mercury and Mars less than 10 degrees above the horizon just after sunset. The moon joins the parade on the 11th as a faint crescent above the two planets.
On February 15 a small asteroid named 2012 DA-14 will whiz by, less than 18,000 miles from Earth. It doesn’t pose any threat to us. And it’ll be a challenging object to see at magnitude 8. Its closest approach will be over eastern Europe, where it will be evening, and Asia to Australia, where it will be dawn. U.S. observers may spot it — through a telescope, with difficulty — several hours later at a very faint magnitude 11.1 at 7 p.m. Eastern and an even fainter magnitude 12.5 at 10 p.m. Pacific.
You can find the latest information on the asteroid’s closest approach on the NASA website: www.NASA.gov.
Far easier to see, and more beautiful, the moon appears to Saturn’s lower left at dawn on the third. And the moon and Jupiter appear close again on the 18th
There are no bright comets this month. But comet Pan-STARRS will be visible in March near the Pisces-Cetus border, when it reaches magnitude 1 or zero or even brighter.
If you’re not already a member of your local astronomy club, this is the year to join. You’ll definitely see some faint comets through club telescopes at star parties and you’ll learn the night sky.
That’s all for this month. I’m Jane Houston Jones.
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology