Sunrise and Sunset Times

Eastern Standard Time from the U.S. Naval Observatory

Sun rises at 7:10 a.m. and sets at 5:21 p.m. on the 1st.

Sun rises at 6:36 a.m. and sets at 5:52 p.m. on the 28th.

Moon’s Phases in February

New Moon on the 4th.

Full “Snow Moon” on the 19th.

Stars and Constellations

The stars and constellations of winter are sprinkled across the night sky like sparkling ice crystals on cold, clear February nights.

Nearly overhead by 8 p.m. is Auriga, the Charioteer, with the bright yellow star Capella as its "eye." Just south of Auriga is Taurus with its bright orange star Aldebaran and the Pleiades, or Seven Sisters, star cluster. Following Taurus to the east is Gemini, the Twins, with its two brightest stars, orangish Pollux and whitish Castor.

The emperor of winter constellations, Orion, the Hunter, stands high in the south by around 9 p.m. during February, and its two brightest stars, Betelgeuse and Rigel, form his left shoulder and right foot, respectively. Sirius, the brightest star in the sky, lies just below and to the left of Orion in Canis Major, and just a bit further to the east is its neighbor Procyon in Canis Minor. Well below Sirius is the second brightest star in the night sky, Canopus, but it always lies below the horizon at the latitude of Philadelphia.

Lying directly below Orion is Lepus, the Hare, and just below Lepus is the small, faint constellation of Columba, the Dove. Because of its southerly location in the sky, Columba is not well known to northern hemisphere observers and is not one of Ptolemy’s original 48 constellations.

One winter constellation that often goes unnoticed by sky watchers in the northern hemisphere is Eridanus, the River. Eridanus starts from just to the west (right) of Rigel with the blue-white star Beta Eridani, also called Cursa. Cursa’s position near Rigel (Orion's foot) gives it its name, which means "the footstool." Eridanus meanders southward to below the horizon, ending with the first magnitude star Achernar. Another far less luminous member of Eridanus is the faint star Epsilon Eridani. At only about 10 light years distant, it is considered one of our Sun’s interstellar neighbors. Astronomers have detected what they believe may be a Jupiter-sized planet in orbit about its otherwise unremarkable parent star.

Looking toward the east-northeast after about 8 p.m., you should be able to spot the blue-white star Regulus in the constellation Leo, rising above the horizon. Further to the left, the Big Dipper, a part of the constellation Ursa Major, or Big Bear, is rising in the north-northeast. When these celestial signs appear, spring cannot be far behind!

Naked-Eye Planets in the Evening and Morning Sky

Mercury reached superior conjunction with the Sun on Jan. 29, and so as February opens. Mercury is still too close to the Sun to be viewed. By the middle of the month, however, Mercury is setting about an hour after the Sun, and by month’s end, that interval has stretched to 1½ hours. Mercury reaches its greatest elongation east of the Sun on the 26th. Look for Mercury low in southwest about 20 to 30 minutes after sunset during the second half of February.

As February opens, Mars is up in the southwest at nightfall; it resembles a moderately bright orange star. Mars remains the sole bright planet in the evening sky until later in the month, when Mercury becomes visible at dusk. Although Mars continues to fade as Earth’s more rapid orbital velocity leaves Mars far behind, Mars is still far brighter than any of the dim stars of the constellation Pisces it currently resides in. Mars sets at around 11 p.m. EST in mid-February.

Jupiter lies just to the upper right of Venus in the morning sky, and it continues to gain elevation above the eastern horizon during February, rising around 3:45 a.m. EST on the 1st and shortly after 2 a.m. on the 28th. Though not as brilliant as Venus, Jupiter is brighter than any star in the night sky; it resembles a cream-colored star.

Venus blazes like a yellow diamond in the southeast during the pre-dawn hours, easily outshining all other nighttime objects except for the Moon. Venus rises a full three hours before the Sun as February opens, well before the onset of morning twilight, but that interval shrinks to less than two hours by month’s end. As Venus gradually descends toward the horizon over the course of February, it passes close to the upward-moving planet Saturn on the 18th, making for a lopsided but beautiful pairing.

Saturn was at conjunction with the Sun in early January, and now as February opens, Saturn is rising at the start of dawn twilight, around 5:30 a.m., which is 1½ hours before sunrise. By month’s end, Saturn is rising around 4 a.m., or 2½ hours before the Sun. Note that on the 18th, Saturn passes close to Venus as the former continues to gain height above the horizon in the early morning sky, while the latter continues to sink lower.

Information on lunar phases and rise/set times of Sun and planets is obtained from the U.S. Naval Observatory Data Services at usno.navy.mil/astronomy. Additional information comes from "The Astronomical Almanac (2016-2020)" by Richard J. Bartlett (Stars ‘n Stuff Publishing, 2015). For more information on the night sky, visit the Widener Observatory Stargazing website at widener.edu/stargazing. A set of free sky maps can be obtained at skymaps.com.

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