The Washington Post

Skywatch for February, by Blaine P. Friedlander Jr.

Grab guacamole and slip away with sliders, because beyond the Broncos and Seahawks, the planets and stars await.

February evenings kick off with Jupiter rising in the east-northeast as darkness falls. The planet is the brightest in the prime-time heavens, loitering throughout the month in the Gemini constellation. It’s a negative-2.6-magnitude object, bright enough to been seen from urban, light-polluted locations.

Scan the sky to the right and find the prominent Orion constellation, the large H-shaped group of stars.

Mars climbs over the eastern horizon now after 11 p.m., hitching a ride on the Virgo constellation. Our red planetary neighbor is at zero magnitude, which can be seen from urban locations. By month’s end, it rises before 10 p.m.

Change of seasons: Summer solstice in Mars’s northern hemisphere is Feb. 15, according to the Planetary Society. Like Earth, the red planet lists on its axis, orbits the sun and has seasons. While Earth’s seasons last three months, on Mars, they last about six. The northern hemisphere of Mars has its autumnal equinox Aug. 17.

The hydrogen-dominated, large and gassy Saturn ascends the heavens about 1:30 a.m. now in the southeast. The ringed planet is a zero-magnitude object, visible from urban locations.

Mornings become beautiful as Venus sizzles and rises just after 5 a.m. now. By the end of the month, it rises about 4:15 a.m. Brilliant and bedazzling, the lovely planet offers a negative-4.6-magnitude view, super bright. The waning crescent moon will dance with the planet on the mornings of Feb. 25 and 26.

Here on the watery blue planet, we reach the halfway point of astronomical winter in the northern hemisphere Tuesday, at 12:04 a.m. Eastern time, according to data from the U.S. Naval Observatory. No matter what the groundhog professes, we’re midway between December’s winter solstice and March’s spring equinox.

Down-to-Earth Events

Feb. 3 – Behold the glory of the midwinter sky in “Stars Tonight” at the David M. Brown Planetarium, 1426 N. Quincy St., Arlington. 7:30 p.m. $3 admission.

Feb. 5 “Why Are Stars Different Colors?” a talk by astronomer Melissa Hayes-Gehrke, at the University of Maryland Observatory, College Park. View the heavens through telescopes, weather permitting. 8 p.m.

Feb. 8 – “An Astronaut View of Our Universe,” a lecture by curator Jennifer Levasseur at the Einstein Planetarium, National Air and Space Museum, National Mall. 5:15 p.m.

Feb. 8 – Holly Gilbert of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center provides results from the Solar Dynamics Observatory at the National Capital Astronomers meeting, University of Maryland Observatory, College Park. 7:30 p.m.

Feb. 9 – Astronomer Duncan Lorimer enlightens the Northern Virginia Astronomy Club about “Fast Radio Bursts” at the group’s regular meeting. Room 163, Research Hall, George Mason University, Fairfax. 7 p.m.

Feb. 15 – “African Skies,” a program on creation myths and how Southern slaves escaped to freedom to the northern United States by following the “Drinking Gourd” (the Big Dipper), at the Montgomery College planetarium, Takoma Park, 7 p.m. ­

Feb. 16 – Bob Ryan, noted TV meteorologist, and Jason Samenow, chief of The Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang, discuss “Climate vs. Weather: What’s the Difference?” at the David M. Brown Planetarium, 1426 N. Quincy St., Arlington. 1:30 p.m. Information and tickets:

Feb. 20 – Learn about the year ahead at “2014 Observing Highlights,” a talk by astronomer Elizabeth Warner, at the University of Maryland Observatory, College Park. Night sky viewing through telescopes, weather permitting. 8 p.m.

Feb. 22 – Kim Arcand and Megan Watzke, both of the Harvard-Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, provide a polychromatic tour of the multiwavelength cosmos in their talk, “How to Color the Universe,” at the Einstein Planetarium, National Air and Space Museum. 5:15 p.m.

Feb. 28 – “Probing the Edge of Reality,” a talk by Pulitzer Prize finalist Brian Greene, author of “The Elegant Universe,” examines startling concepts of our cosmos at the Lockheed Martin Imax Theater, National Air and Space Museum. 7:30 p.m.

Blaine Friedlander can be reached at



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