Snow is not a rarity in February, but in the night sky a harbinger of spring is already approaching.
(Photo: picture alliance/dpa)
Even in the brightened city sky in February the main stars of Gemini can be seen, already with nightfall the celestial hunter Orion shows up – and in the eastern night sky a harbinger of the coming spring can be seen.
The planet Jupiter, which has dominated the evening sky with its brilliance in the last months, gives its farewell performance in February. The giant planet retreats from the evening sky and becomes invisible. At the beginning of the month it can still be seen just above the western horizon as a bright, white point of light. Soon after 7 p.m. it becomes invisible in the near-horizon haze, at the middle of the month already half an hour earlier. After the middle of the month one will look in vain for the giant planet.
After Jupiter’s departure the first half of the night remains without bright planets. For Saturn in the constellation of Capricorn has already left the evening sky in January. The ring planet will be on 4. caught up by the sun and standing invisible with it in the daytime sky. Venus, on the other hand, shines in the morning sky. On 12. it shines in the greatest splendor. After sun and moon Venus is the brightest star on earthly firmament. It will play its role as morning star until the beginning of autumn. At the end of the year it reappears in the early evening sky.
Mars in the constellation Sagittarius gradually becomes visible at dawn. On 13. it comes to a meeting with the substantially brighter Venus. At the beginning of the month Mars rises shortly after 6 o’clock in the morning. About half an hour later it can be seen low in the eastern sky as a reddish point of light. At the end of February it rises half an hour earlier than the sun. The nimble Mercury does not show up in our latitudes in February.
Orion already high in the south
On 1. appears at 6.46 the new moon phase occurs. Two weeks later on 16. at 17.56 o’clock in the constellation Leo the full moon position reached. Already in the night of 9. on the 10. the waxing crescent moon passes the Golden Gate of the solar orbit, which runs between the star clusters Pleiades and Hyades. At 405.900 kilometers the moon comes on 11. in earth distance. On 26. he stays with 367.800 kilometers near the earth.
Here Orion can be seen directly above the lighthouse of Happisburgh.
(Photo: picture alliance / Loop Images)
By nightfall, the celestial hunter Orion, the leading constellation of the winter sky, is already high in the south. Three stars standing in a straight row are conspicuous. They mark the belt of the Hunter. Just below them, the naked eye can see a faint spot of light. In the binoculars it becomes clearly recognizable. It is a huge cloud of gas and dust. The cloud known as the Great Orion Nebula at a distance of 1500 light-years is a star-forming nest. Embedded in it are numerous hot, bluish-white stars. They have just been formed, that means they are only a few million years old – in contrast to our sun, which is almost five billion years old.
Orion is followed by a bright bluish star in the southeast. It is called Sirius and is the brightest star in the terrestrial firmament. Sirius is the main star in the constellation Big Dog, therefore the name "Dog Star". A little higher you find Prokyon, main star in the Small Dog. Prokyon means as much as "fore dog". For he rises in the east before Sirius in the Great Dog.
Brotherly love in the starry sky
High in the south you can see the two star chains of the Gemini with their main stars Kastor and Pollux. Both stars are well visible even in the brightened city sky. Already with the Assyrians the two conspicuous star chains with one bright star each at the beginning of the chain were regarded as twins. The twins are part of the zodiac because the northernmost sections of the sun’s apparent orbit pass through them. In summer they are not visible, because from 21. June until 21. July the sun wanders through this constellation.
According to the Greek legend, the twins are the Lacedaemonian twins Kastor and Polydeukes, sons of Zeus, the boss of the gods. The twins are half brothers. Polydeukes is son of Leda and Zeus, whom he approached transformed as a swan. Also the swan is found as a constellation in the summer sky. In the same night in which Zeus visits Leda, she also conceives a son from her lawful husband Tyndareos, namely Kastor. While Polydeukes is immortal as the son of the father of the gods, this is not true for Kastor.
However, the half-brothers are connected by an intimate love. When Kastor is killed in a battle, Polydeukes implores his father Zeus to admit his brother to Olympus as well. Zeus refuses this however. But he leaves Polydeukes free to spend one day each in Olympus with the society of the gods and one day in Hades, in the underworld. Polydeukes, Roman Pollux, accepts this offer joyfully. In eternal remembrance of this great brotherly love, both are moved among the stars.
It becomes brighter again
In the east the lion has already risen. Its main star Regulus is a hot, bluish-white sun at 77 light-years distance. Leo is a harbinger of the coming spring. Between Leo and Gemini the inconspicuous constellation Cancer takes its place. Well known by its name as the zodiac, it is difficult to see because of its faint stars. Only in moonless nights and far away from terrestrial lights the cancer is to be seen.
The sun moves along the ascending part of its annual orbit. It approaches the celestial equator, but reaches it only in March at the beginning of spring. At 16. February it changes at noon from the constellation Capricorn to the constellation Aquarius. Two days later, it enters the zodiac sign of Pisces in the early evening. The midday altitude of the sun increases by nine degrees, the length of the day increases by one and a half hours.