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February skies bring warmer observing weather

(Pexels Photo)

February in Arizona brings us some warmer observing weather and some amazing sights to see!

The month of love, with Valentine’s Day, offers us a time to fall in love with the wonders of our incredible night skies.

The second month of the new decade offers up 29 days with the leap year tradition, put in place to help keep our Gregorian calendar in alignment with Earth’s revolution around the sun.

A true Earth year is measured as 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes and 45 seconds to go once around the sun.

We skip Leap Day once every 100 years; thus, 2020 will have 366 days.

Just imagine if your birthday is on Feb. 29!

How old are you if that is your birthdate?

In Phoenix, we experience around 80% sunshine in February, with various amounts in other parts of the state.

Much of the state is also warmer in February, with the deserts having some wonderfully warm days and cool nights.

Just the recipe for looking at the night skies!

We begin the month with the moon as it reaches first quarter Feb. 1, moving on to its gibbous phase and on to the full snow moon Feb. 8 and into the the next day.

The moon then wanes and reaches last quarter on the 15th and back to the new moon on the 23rd.

The moon will passes very close to Mars, on the morning of the 18th before dawn in the southeastern sky.

Observers in Arizona will be treated to an amazing occultation of Mars by the thin crescent moon. This will occur for us in Phoenix starting around 4:36 a.m., as the bright edge of the moon, occults (eclipses) Mars, which will pop out on the dark edge of the moon around 5:38 a.m.

This will make for a great viewing session in binoculars and a telescope, as well as those with photography skills.

The moon also passes Saturn by some 1.7 degrees on the morning of the 20th, low in the predawn skies.

For planets, February serves up a great view of the goddess of love, Venus. Venus is high in the southwestern sky at sunset.

Mercury makes itself visible by the 10th, at some 18 degrees from the sun, low in the south-southwest at dusk.

The morning planets are Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. They will soon become the major planets of 2020 in our summer skies, with Jupiter and Saturn closing in on each other in July.

Finally, get set for Mars to come very close to Earth by October.

Exciting skies for February – enjoy the show!

To print your own monthly star chart, click here.

To view satellites/dates/times of passage, click here.

Listen to the Dr. Sky Show on KTAR News 92.3 FM every Saturday at 3 a.m.

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