February 2015 will be a grand month for watching planets in the evening sky. Venus, the sky’s brightest planet, and modestly-bright Mars appear close together in the western sky after sunset. And magnificent Jupiter, the sky’s second-brightest planet, beams low in the east as darkness falls.
In fact, February 2015 presents Jupiter’s finest moment in the sun for this year. Jupiter shines opposite the sun this month – in what astronomers call opposition to the sun – directly reflecting the light of the sun back to Earth and shining at its brightest best for this year. Jupiter’s opposition will happen when Earth passes between Jupiter and the sun on February 6.
Because it’s opposite the sun this month, Jupiter is out from nightfall until morning dawn. Look for Jupiter low in the east at early evening, highest up around midnight, and low in the west at daybreak. You can’t miss it! It’s brighter than any star (but not as bright as Venus).
Venus is indeed brighter than Jupiter, brighter in fact than any sky object except the sun and moon. Look for Venus and Mars shortly after sunset, because they’ll follow the sun beneath the horizon by early evening.
Dazzling Venus will be hard to miss. Although Mars is considerably fainter than Venus, it’s still bright enough to see with the eye alone. See if you notice Mars’ reddish color.
In the great race of the planets around the sun, Venus closes the gap between itself and Mars throughout the first half of February. These two worlds will have a wondrous conjunction on February 21, 2015 – their closest pairing until October 25, 2017.
If you have trouble seeing Mars, take advantage of the fact that Venus and Mars will take stage in the same binocular field for a few weeks, centered on February 21.
And don’t wait until February 21 to see Venus and Mars! They’ll be fun to watch all month. Watch for them especially on Feburary 20, when Venus and Mars bunch up with the moon after sunset.
Bottom line: Starting the night of February 1, 2015 – and for the rest of the month – watch the great planet show in the evening sky! You’ll find Venus and Mars edging close – and Jupiter at its brightest!