Find out what to go out and look at this month

Planets:

Mercury returns to the early morning low in the East in the middle of the month. It will move from the Aquarius (The Water Bearer) constellation and into the Capricornus (The Sea-Goat) constellation two days later. Venus is viewable in the morning twilight in the South-East and in the first week of February will move from the Sagittarius (The Archer) constellation to the Capricornus (The Sea-Goat) constellation and by the last week, it’ll move into the Aquarius (The Water Bearer) constellation.

Mars can be seen high in the North West evening sky this month. The planet starts off the month in the Aries (The Ram) constellation and into the Taurus (The Bull) constellation during the last week of February. Mars will set at 11:26 am (AWST) at the beginning of the month and by the end of the month, it’ll set at 10:29 pm (AWST). Jupiter and Saturn will return to our sky in the early morning in the Capricornus (The Sea-Goat) constellation. Saturn will return first at the end of the first week and then Jupiter will return in the middle of the month.

Uranus will be viewable in the evening in between the constellations of Cetus (The Sea Monster) and Aries (The Ram). At the start of February, the planet will set around 11:14 pm (AWST) and by the end of the month, it’ll set at 09:30 pm (AWST).

Mercury, Venus, Jupiter and Saturn on the 15/02/21 at 05:15 am. Image Credit: Stellarium
Uranus on the 15/02/21 at 08:30 pm. Image Credit: Stellarium

Conjunctions And Occultations:

Conjunctions involve object(s) in the Solar System and/or more distant objects, such as a star. It’s an apparent phenomenon in which multiple objects which aren’t close together appear close in the sky and it’s caused by the observer’s perspective. An occultation is an event that occurs when one object is hidden by another object that passes between it and the observer.

Things To Look At This Month:

The Orion Nebula:

The Orion Nebula is a diffuse nebula situated north of Orion’s Belt (In the southern hemisphere) in the constellation of Orion. It is one of the brightest nebulae in our skies and is visible to the naked eye. Messier 42, as it’s also called, is located at a distance of 1,344 light-years away from our Solar System and is estimated to be 24 light-years across. The nebula has revealed much about the process of how stars and planetary systems are formed from collapsing clouds of gas and dust.

Orion Nebula on the 15/02/21 at 09:00 pm. Image Credit: Stellarium
The Orion Nebula - Image credit: wallpaperswide.com
Messier 46:

Messier 46 is an unusual open star cluster in that it appears to have a planetary nebula (NGC2438) embedded in it. The cluster is about 40 light-years across and located some 5,500 light-years away from Earth. There are an estimated 500 stars in the cluster, and most are around 300 million years old — very young for stars. While the planetary nebula appears to lie within M46, it is most likely unrelated to the cluster as it doesn’t share the cluster’s radial velocity. The star of this planetary nebula is a white dwarf with a surface temperature of about 74,700°C which makes it’s one of the hottest stars known to us.

Messier 46 on the 15/02/21 at 09:00 pm. Image Credit: Stellarium
Messier 46 - Image Credit: Astro Bruce (http://astrobruce.weebly.com)
Eta Carinae And The Carina Nebula:

Variable brightness and Colour, Eta Carinae is one of the most remarkable stars in the heavens. When we say “Eta Carinae” we refer to the star itself which for Perth is a circumpolar star (We see the star all year round) and not the nebula.

Eta Carinae is 100 times the Sun’s mass and 4 million times brighter, this brightness has been unstable with the star being recorded over the past 300 years between magnitude -0.8 which is as bright as Canopus and +7.9. It’s a star that’s sometimes in the news as it’s expected to become a supernova within the next 1 million years and will be a spectacular sight when it occurs, being visible by day and possibly bright enough to read by at night.

Eta Carinae is very likely a binary star with the smaller partner orbiting in a highly elliptical orbit of 5.5 years. The Carinae Nebula (NGC 3372), which surrounds Eta Carinae, is a large, bright star-formation region that has produced several very massive stars including Eta Carinae. At around 260 light-years the Carina Nebula is around 7 times the size of the Great Orion Nebula, but due to its greater distance, it only spans twice the width. There are many O-type stars, young (~2 million years), hot and bright that energise the entire Eta Carinae nebulae.

Carina Nebula on the 15/02/21 at 09:00 pm. Image Credit: Stellarium
Carina Nebula. Image Credit: Roger Groom
Eta Carinae. Image Credit: NASA
Tarantula Nebula:

The Tarantula Nebula is an Emission Nebula, found in one of our galaxy’s satellite galaxies, the Large Magellanic Cloud. The nebula is approximately 160,000 light-years away from our Solar System and is 300 light-years across.

An extremely luminous object, the Tarantula Nebula’s luminosity is so great that if it were as close to Earth as the Orion Nebula, the Tarantula Nebula would cast shadows and take up 20% of the horizon.

As one of the most active starburst regions known in the Local Group of galaxies, the Tarantula Nebula resides on the leading edge of the Large Magellanic Cloud where ram pressure is stripping, and the compression of the interstellar medium likely resulting from this is at a maximum.

Tarantula Nebula on the 15/02/21 at 09:00pm. Image Credit: Stellarium
Tarantula Nebula. Image Credit: Peter Ward (Barden Ridge Observatory)
47 Tucanae:

47 Tucanae or NGC 104 is the second-largest and second brightest globular cluster in Milky Way. The Globular cluster is 16,000 light-years away from us and is located in Constellation Tucana (Named after the Tucan bird) and it’s a naked eye ‘star’ and clearly visible in binoculars as a ‘fuzzy blob’. 47 Tucanae contains at least 1 – 2 million stars and the cluster has a diameter of roughly 120 light-years and the stars are roughly 10 billion years old. The average distance between the stars at the centre is around 10% of a light-year or more than 100 times the diameter of our solar system. In February 2017, indirect evidence for a likely intermediate-mass black hole in 47 Tucanae was announced.

47 Tucanae on the 15/02/21 at 09:00pm. Image Credit: Stellarium
47 Tucanae. Image Credit & Copyright: Mike O'Day

Phases Of The Moon:

February 2021 Moon phases