All month long, the knot of bright winter constellations occupies center stage in the south during the prime early evening viewing hours. This grouping boasts five stars that rank among the top ten brightest in the night sky: Sirius (No. 1), Capella (No. 6), Rigel (No. 7), Procyon (No. 8), and Betelgeuse (No. 10).
At nightfall, Sirius shines from Canis Major, the big dog, while above and slightly to the east twinkles Procyon, in Canis Minor, the little dog. Both are near neighbors of the sun, so no wonder they appear so bright. Sitting atop the stellar panoply, Capella, in Auriga, the charioteer, is four times more distant than either Sirius or Procyon. But the two stars in Orion—Betelgeuse, at his right shoulder, and Rigel, at his left foot—hold their own against the others despite being more than 10 times farther away than even Capella.
A waxing moon passes between the horns of Taurus, the bull, on the night of February 10 and between the bodies of the Gemini twins on the night of February 12. On February 13, the “head” stars of the twins—Pollux (the brighter) and Castor—form a nearly straight line with the moon. February’s full moon shines from the jaws of Leo, the lion, the night of February 15 and will still be gorgeous when it rises on the evening of February 16.
In the morning sky, brilliant Venus, in the southeast, spends much of the month climbing toward much dimmer Mars. A waning moon passes Spica, the brightest star in Virgo, the maiden, between February 20 and 21 and visits Antares, the heart of Scorpius, on February 24. On February 27, Venus, Mars and an old crescent moon stack up with Mars in the middle. To see all three, look to the southeast just as dawn starts to break.
On Groundhog Day we get a hint of spring. The day was first celebrated as the astronomically based Celtic holiday Imbolc, or lamb’s milk, and heralded the start of the lambing season. It was one of four cross-quarter days falling midway between a solstice and an equinox.
February 8—First Quarter Moon
This phase occurs when the Moon is three-quarters of the way through its orbit around the Earth.
February 16—Full Moon
The Moon is located on the opposite side of the Earth as the Sun and the side we see is fully illuminated.
February 23—Third Quarter Moon
The Moon is one-quarter of its way through its orbit around the Earth, which makes half the Moon illuminated and half dark from our perspective. This is the best time of the month to see the Moon’s surface features like craters and mountains through binoculars or a telescope.