THE SOLAR SYSTEM IN FEBRUARY 2018

Dates and times shown are NZDT (UT + 13 hours) unless otherwise stated. Times are for Wellington. They will vary by a few minutes elsewhere in NZ.

February 1 NZDT February 28 NZDT
SUN: rise 6.23am, set 8.44pm rise 6.57am, set 8.08pm

Twilights morning evening morning evening
Civil: start 5.55am, end 9.13pm start 6.32am, end 8.34pm
Nautical: start 5.17am, end 9.50pm start 5.58am, end 9.08pm
Astro: start 4.35am, end10.32pm start 5.22am, end 9.43pm

FEBRUARY PHASES OF THE MOON (times NZDT, as shown by GUIDE)

Full moon: February 1 at 2.27am (Jan 31, 13:27 UT)
Last quarter February 8 at 4.54am (Feb 7, 15:54 UT)
New moon: February 16 at 10.05am (Feb 15, 21:15 UT)
First quarter: February 23 at 9.09pm (08:09 UT)

A total eclipse of the moon, fully visible from NZ, takes place on the night of January 31/February 1. The eclipse will be total between 1:51:25 am and 3:08:07 am on the morning of Feb 1. Further details can be found on the RASNZ web site.

The subsequent partial eclipse of the Sun on February 15/16 is visible from the Southern Ocean, well to the south of New Zealand, and the Antarctic continent. Its end will be visible from southern parts of Chile and Argentina

THE PLANETS in FEBRUARY 2018

Mercury and Venus are going to be too close to the Sun for observation all month. During February Jupiter and Saturn move up in the morning sky as does Mars to a lesser extent.

MERCURY starts February as a morning object, rising 1 hour before the Sun on the 1st. Half an hour before sunrise the planet will be only 4° above the horizon, its best for the month. Mercury reaches superior conjunction on the 17th, when it will be 207 million km from the Earth, 60 million beyond the Sun. After conjunction Mercury becomes an evening object but sets only 25 minutes after the Sun on the 28th.

VENUS, already in the evening sky, sets only 20 minutes after the Sun on the 1st, an interval increasing to 33 minutes by the end of February, 8 minutes after Mercury.

JUPITER, MARS and SATURN are early morning objects, with Mars between the two gas giants.

During the first few days of February, Mars will cross the narrow northern part of Scorpius before moving into Ophiuchus on the 8th. Three night later it will be at its closest to Antares when the two will be 5° apart. Mars rises at 1.20 am on February 1 and 12.30 am on the 28th.

Jupiter is the first of the three to rise, a little before 1 am at the beginning of the month, advancing to 11 pm by the end. The planet will be slow moving in Libra.

Saturn, the last to appear, rises just before 3.30 am on the 1st and 1.50 am on the 28th. It is in Sagittarius all month.

The moon, at last quarter, passes Jupiter on the morning of the 8th, Mars on the 9th and 10th and is 2.5° from Saturn on the 12th, by which date it will be a 15% lit crescent.

 

OUTER PLANETS

URANUS is an evening object in Pisces during February. It is best placed in the sky as soon as it is dark, setting just before 10 am on the 28th at the end of the month.

NEPTUNE, magnitude 8.0, is an early evening object but will be lost in the twilight, especially at the end of February when it will set less than 15 minutes after the Sun.

PLUTO, in Sagittarius at magnitude 14.5, is a morning object rising 4 hours earlier than the Sun by the end of the month. It will then be some 13° east of Saturn and 8° below the handle of the teapot as seen 90 minutes before sunrise.

 

BRIGHTEST MINOR PLANETS

(1) CERES is at opposition on February 4 when it will be in Cancer at magnitude 6.9. It will be in Cancer all month. With a declination over +30°, it will be low in NZ skies.

(2) PALLAS is an evening object, magnitude 9.0 to 9.1 during February. It will be in Eridanus.

(4) VESTA is a morning object in Ophiuchus with a magnitude ranging from 7.8 to 7.5. The asteroid will be moving to the east on a track parallel to and about 5° from, that of Mars. The latter overtakes Vesta on the 26th when the asteroid will be between eta Oph, magnitude 2.5 and Mars, magnitude 0.9. It will be just under 1.5° from the star and just over 5° from the planet.

(7) IRIS starts February in Aries but moves into Taurus on the 18th. During the month it fades from magnitude 9.2 to 9.7.

(8) FLORA is in Gemini all month, but fades from magnitude 9.2 to 10.0 during February.

Brian Loader

 

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