night sky

Eyes on the skies – February

Welcome to the Ontario Parks “Eyes on the Skies” series. This “space” will cover a wide range of astronomy topics with a focus on what can be seen from the pristine skies found in our provincial parks.

The month of February brings the promise of both warmer weather and clearer skies. So grab a cup of tea or hot chocolate, bundle up, and spend the day outdoors.

And when the sun goes down and the stars start to shine, don’t forget to head back out to enjoy the season’s beautiful night skies!

Here are our astronomical highlights for February:

The leap year

This year we get to enjoy one more day in the month of February as it is a leap year. So what is a leap year and why do we have them?

snowy sunset through trees

The answer lies in our attempts to reconcile a day, which is the average time from one noon to the next day’s noon,  into the year, which is the time it takes for the Earth to completely rotate the Sun and return to its exact position. This is also known as a “Tropical Year”.

Most people think that the Earth orbits the Sun in 365 days, hence 365 days in a year. However, it actually takes about 365.242189 days to complete exactly one orbit.

Therefore, we are left with slightly less than a quarter more days each year. After 4 years, this amounts to almost exactly 1 day extra. We correct this by adding the extra day in our shortest month. This is why we have a February 29th every four years.

A noticeable increase in the amount of daylight occurs over the month of February.

February 1 February 15 February 29
Sunrise 7:48 7:28 7:05
Midday 12:38 12:39 12:38
Sunset 17:30 17:51 18:12

The moon and the planets

In February, we will see Venus move further away from the Sun and brighten considerably.

This brightening is occurring because Venus is getting closer to the Earth and reflecting more light towards us as it grows in size.

Just like in January, as Venus gets closer to Earth, its phase will eventually shrink from Gibbous to a crescent (see phases of the moon below). This happens because of the amount of light reflected from the sun from the highly reflective cloud layer of Venus’ atmosphere.

February’s lunar phases are as follows:

Lunar phases diagram

Excellent Venus viewings

February will feature not one, but two really great opportunities to see the planet Venus nearby other interesting objects.

Diagram of the planets
Image 1
Diagram of the planets
Image 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On February 10 at 6:00 pm, Mercury, Neptune, Venus and Uranus will all be visible just after sunset (see image 1). While Neptune will require a telescope or good pair of binoculars, the other planets will be easily visible with binoculars or even the unaided eye.

On the evening of February 27, a thin crescent moon appears relatively close to Venus. And if that wasn’t interesting enough, the planet Uranus also appears fairly close to both the moon and Venus. Observers with binoculars should be able to easily see all three objects.

February constellations

There are many popular constellations that are associated with this time of the year. Want to learn more about Gemini?

gemini-constellation

Meteor Showers

February and March are generally quiet months for meteor observing. Our next good meteor shower is the Lyrids, which peak in late April.

Did you know…

…you can actually improve your ability to see in the dark!

Campfire landscapeMost people do not realize there are a number of techniques you can use to improve your night vision.

Check out this article to discover four things you can do to see better in the dark.

We hope it will allow you to not only see more objects in the night sky, but to safely navigate your campsite at nighttime.

This completes our review of February skies

Remember to bundle up and take in the view from our parks. The stars await those who make the effort to enjoy them!

Killarney observatory

Spending Family Day Weekend at Killarney? Don’t miss the Saturday Stargazing at the Observatory!