Comet E3 ZTF was photographed on Friday. It will remain visible into February. Image courtesy of Alessandro Bianconi/EDU INAF
February's fickle weather can pose a challenge to stargazers as cloudy weather often spreads across large swaths of North America throughout the month. But when the night sky is devoid of clouds, it will offer the opportunity to witness several eye-grabbing astronomical events.
Comet E3 ZTF has been the highlight of the night sky so far in 2023, with photographers around the world capturing stunning images of the object. The comet will continue on its celestial saunter in February, with multiple opportunities to spot it in the night sky, with and without a telescope.
February also features a few astronomical meet-ups that will be easy to spot for people of all ages. So get out the calendar and mark down these must-see events taking place in the February sky.
The first weekend of February will end with a full moon, one that will remind onlookers that winter isn't over yet, even if Punxsutawney Phil calls for an early spring.
February's full moon is often referred to as the Snow Moon, a name that derives from the often snowy weather across North America throughout the month. Other nicknames for the month's full moon include the Groundhog Moon, Bald Eagle Moon, Black Bear Moon and Hungry Moon.
For weather forecasters, this will be the final full moon of meteorological winter, which ends as the calendar turns from February to March. However, there is still one more full moon before astronomical spring arrives on the equinox, which takes place this year at 5:24 p.m. on March 20.
For the first time in 50,000 years, Comet E3 ZTF is making its way through the inner solar system. The ancient object has become bright enough to see without a telescope and will continue to emit a green glow into February.
Comet E3 will make its closest approach to Earth on Wednesday, but the best night to see it may be on Feb. 10, when it appears extremely close to Mars after nightfall.
The comet will become more difficult to spot during the second half of February and into March as it moves away from the Earth and back toward the frozen depths of the solar system.
One of the final nights of February will feature an astronomical meet-up of two of the most well-known objects in the night sky.
As the sun sets on Feb. 27, Mars and the crescent moon will appear side by side in the western sky. The duo will be hard to miss and will appear to be separated by the width of a pinky finger held out at arm's length.
The celestial convergence will be visible during the first half of the night, weather permitting, before the moon and Mars dip below the horizon around 2 a.m. local time.
Folks who step outside right after sunset can spot another astronomical tandem that will only be visible during the first 90 minutes of the night. Venus and Jupiter will appear extremely close in the final nights of February and into the start of March in the western sky, eventually appearing closer than the moon and Mars on Feb. 27.