The Skies of February 2021 by Dick Cookman

Highlights:  Comet Journal, Martian Landers, Meteor Showers, Planet Plotting, February Moon

Focus Constellations:  Ursa Major, Ursa Minor, Draco, Cepheus, Cassiopeia, Camelopardalis, Andromeda, Perseus, Auriga, Taurus, Orion, Monoceras, Gemini, Cancer, Leo

  • Comet Journal

Comet C/2020 R4 (ATLAS) is a long period comet from the Oort Belt. It is at 10th magnitude in Capricornus and is currently on the other side of the Sun. Its orbit is tilted relative to Earth’s orbit. It moved from below to above our orbit in mid-January and will reach perihelion on Mar. 1. The comet is closest to Earth on April 23 when it may reach between 7th and 9th magnitude. dimming as it retreats to its aphelion beyond the orbit of Neptune. 

Comet C/2020 M3 (ATLAS) is at 12th magnitude in Auriga. It passed through perihelion between the orbits of Earth and Mars in October and is dimming as it retreats to its aphelion beyond the orbit of Neptune. 

Comet C/2021 A2 (Neowise) is at 11th magnitude in Monoceras. It was closest to the Sun when it passed through perihelion below our orbit between the orbits of Earth and Mars on January 22 and will dim as it retreats, to a distant aphelion which has not yet been determined. 

  • Mars Landers

InSight’s (short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) pile driving heat probe “mole” has met its match in the cement-like “duracrust” at the drill site and an unexpected shortage of energy due to weather conditions at the landing site. The lander is located in a low wind zone during the current season which means that Martian dust is not removed from the solar panels by the wind which results in less energy output. The combination of this and the unsuccessful attempts in the last two years to drill beyond a few centimeters prevents continuation of drilling to position the probe at the desired depth of 16 feet. NASA announced on January 14 that the heat flow measurement experiments will be abandoned. Fortunately, the other experiments for which the lander was desired are progressing with success.

Curiosity is ascending through the fractured intermediate unit, a series of small ridges made of harder rock layers and valleys with softer, more erodible rock layers. The layers dip opposite the direction of travel. After the rover ascends a ridge, there is a slight descent down the dipping rock layer to the valley after which there is another higher ridge to cross like a set of stairs with risers which slope away from the stair climber. In mid December the rover reached rubbly area in one of the valleys and, in late December, descended into a dune field called the Sands of Forvie. where detailed information about composition and sedimentary textures and structures of the sand layers was obtained. The rover departed the dune field and passed the rest of January in another rubbly bedrock area after completing 3000 Sols on Mars following the 1st week in January, a period preceding the onset of the Spring Equinox on Mars.

  • Meteor Showers

February hosts 2 meteor showers. The Alpha Centaurids are the best, but are confined to southern hemisphere skies. The Delta Leonds, are a minor shower without much competition from a Crescent Moon.

February 8: Alpha Centaurids. Active Jan 28-Feb 21. Radiant 14h00m -59°, ZHR 25+. 53km/sec. Waning Crescent Moon. Progenitors: Unknown.
February 24: Delta Leonids. Active Feb 15-Mar 10, Radiant 11h12m +16°, ZHR 2, 23 km/sec. Waxing Crescent Moon. Progenitor: Asteroid 1987SY. 

  • Planet Plotting 

Jupiter (-1.8) and Saturn (+0.6 to +0.7) appear in the morning sky in Capricornus after their conjunctions with the Sun in January. They join Venus (-3.8) which will not pass through solar conjunction until late March. Since they rise shortly before the Sun, all three reside in the glow of sunrise. Mercury (+1.5 to +0.4) is also in Capricornus but may be found deep in the glow of sunset in early February. The little “messenger of the gods” will not move into morning skies until after inferior conjunction with the Sun on the 8th. After sunset, evening planets are limited to Mars (+0.5 to +0.9) and Uranus (+5.8) which are high in the south in Aries and Neptune (+7.9 to +8.0) in Aquarius which sets soon after the Sun. 

Mercury, Jupiter, Saturn, and Venus appear to surround the Sun in the sky even though Mercury is between Earth and the Sun and the other three are on the other side of the Sun. With the apparent proximity in the sky there are 5 conjunctions between the planets in February. First, and closest at 0.38°, is Venus and Saturn on the 6th, then comes Venus and Jupiter which are almost as close at 0.43° on the 11th. Mercury and Venus follow at 4.6° on the 13th and Mercury passes Jupiter at 3.9° on the 15th, then goes by Saturn at 4.1° on the 23rd. All of these will occur in the glow of sunrise or sunset, making them difficult to see. Are you up tor such a heavenly challenge? Mercury, Jupiter, Saturn, and Venus may all be seen during the day with 3 to 4 inch telescopes or even some binoculars! After sunrise during mid-February, be careful not to look at the Sun and examine the area to the left and lower left of the Sun for Mercury, then shift to the right or upper right to find Jupiter, Saturn, and Venus. When looking on the left side of the Sun, approach from the left and when looking on the right side, approach from the right. That way you can avoid inadvertently admitting the Sun into the field of view, a mistake that could have dire consequences.

On the 10th, the waning crescent Moon is 3.4° from Saturn at 8:00AM EST, 3.1° from Venus at 6:00PM EST, and 3.6° from Jupiter at 7:00PM EST. It is 8.0° from Mercury at 3:00AM EST on the 11th. The waxing crescent Moon is 4.0° from Neptune at 5:00PM EST on the 13th, 2.8° from Uranus at 2:00PM EST on the 17th, and 4.7° from Mars at 9:00PM EST on the 18th.


Constellation(s) Magnitude Planet Passages Time Date
Sun Capricornus, Aquarius


New Moon 2:07PM EST 2/11
Mercury Capricornus

+1.5 to +0.4

Inferior Conjunction 9:00AM EST 2/8
Mercury Capricornus +1.5 to +0.4 Venus, 4.6°S 5:00AM EST 2/13
Mercury Capricornus +1.5 to +0.4 Jupiter, 3.9°SSE 9:00AM EST 2/15
Mercury Capricornus +1.5 to +0.4 Saturn, 4.1°SW 3:00AM EST 2/23
Venus Capricornus, Aquarius


Saturn, 0.38°NW 3:00AM EST 2/6
Venus Capricornus, Aquarius


Jupiter, 0.43°NNW 10:00AM EST 2/11
Venus Capricornus, Aquarius


Mercury, 4.6°NW 5:00AM EST 2/13
Mars Aries, Taurus +0.5 to +0.9
Jupiter Capricornus


Venus, 0.43°SSE 10:00AM EST 2/11
Jupiter Capricornus


Mercury, 3.9°NNW 9:00AM, EST 2/15
Saturn Capricornus  +0.6 to +0.7 Venus, 0.38°SE  3:00AM EST 2/6
Saturn Capricornus +0.6 to +0.7 Mercury, 4.1°NE 3:00AM EST 2/23
Uranus Aries


Neptune Aquarius +7.9 to +8.0
  • February Moon 

New Moon on February 11 at 2:07PM EST is the start of Lunation 1214 which ends 29.43 days later with the New Moon of March on the 13th at 5:22AM EST. The Full Moon of February is on the 27th at 3:18AM EST. It is commonly known as the “Snow, Hungar, or Wolf” Moon. In colonial times, the February Moon was the “Trappers Moon”. In Medieval England, the it was the “Storm Moon.” Celts named it the “Moon of Ice” and the Chinese call it the “Budding Moon”. Anishinaabe (Odawa and Ojibwe) people recognize it as “Namebini-giizis” (Sucker Moon) in the western dialect and Mkwa-giizis (Bear Moon) in the eastern dialect.

At Lunar Perigee, on the 3rd at 1:48PM EST, the Moon is 229987 miles from Earth (58.03 Earth radii). Apogee (maximum solar distance), on February 18 at 5:00AM EST, the Moon is 251,307 miles (63.41 Earth radii).




Moon Passages

Moon Phase

Moon Age

Sun Ophiuchus


2:07PM EST, 2/11 New 0 Days
Mercury Ophiuchus


8.0°SE, 3:00AM EST, 2/11 Waning Crescent 29.12 Days
Venus Libra


3.1°SE, 6:00PM EST, 2/10 Waning Crescent 28.75 Days
Mars Pisces


4.7°SE, 9:00PM EST, 2/18 Waxing Crescent 7.08 Days
Jupiter Sagittarius


3.6°SE, 7:00PM EST. 2/10 Waning Crescent 28.79 Days
Saturn Capricornus


3.4°SE, 8:00AM EST, 2/10 Waning Crescent 27.33 Days
Uranus Aries


2.8°NNW, 2:00PM EST, 2/17 Waxing Crescent 5.79 Days
Neptune Aquarius


4.0°NNW, 5:00PM EST, 2/13 Waxing Crescent 2.2 Days