The sky this week from February 18 to 25

Sunday February 20
Comet 19P/Borrelly, currently observed around magnitude 9.5 and slowly fading, appears to pass close to Uranus in the night sky today. Both are flowing west tonight after sunset, located in the southern part of Aries.

Although Aries covers 441 square degrees in the sky, its three brightest stars are all clustered in the northwestern part of its territory. These are Hamal (magnitude 2), Sheratan (magnitude 2.6) and Mesarthim (magnitude 3.9). Tonight, Borrelly is 6° east-southeast of the last and weakest of the three, while Uranus is 5° southeast of Borrelly. The faint magnitude 5.8 glow from the planet is just bright enough to be detected with the naked eye in excellent conditions; binoculars or a telescope will easily show its 3-inch-wide disk, while the binoculars’ wide field of view should also get you closer to the planet and comet.

Uranus now lies just 0.5° from the 6 magnitude star 29 Arietis; the planet will move slightly northeast in the coming days, ending the month 43′ from this star.

Sunrise: 06:46
Sunset: 5:42 p.m.
Moonrise: 10:08 p.m.
Moon setting: 8:58
Moon phase: Waning gibbous (83%)

monday february 21
An hour after sunset, the magnificent open cluster M44 in Cancer is already floating more than 35° high. As the darkness deepens, this cluster of twinkling stars can emerge from the background as a 4th magnitude blur.

This eye-friendly object spans approximately 95 feet and is also known as the Beehive Cluster or Praesepe the Manger. Because it requires no optical aid to spot it, it has been known since antiquity and its records date back to at least 260 BC. dozen of its 350 stars.

The hive is about 580 light years away and about 730 million years old. Researchers believe it may have been associated with the Hyades in Taurus – perhaps the two originated in a single giant molecular cloud and grew apart over time.

Sunrise: 6:45 am
Sunset: 5:43 p.m.
Moonrise: 11:18 p.m.
Moon setting: 09:24
Moon phase: Waning gibbous (75%)

tuesday february 22
Leo Leo now rises in the east as the Sun dips below the horizon. As this big cat soars through the sky, you can easily spot its brightest star, Regulus of magnitude 1.4. Some 150 times brighter than our Sun, this star is just 79 light-years away from us.

Regulus also marks the base of a well-known asterism called the Lion’s Sickle, which looks a bit like a large upside-down question mark in the sky. To draw this figure, move from Regulus about 5° due north towards Eta (η) Leonis, the top of the Sickle handle. Then move clockwise to connect Gamma (γ), Zeta (ζ), Mu (μ) and Epsilon (ϵ) Leonis. This asterism also describes Leo’s head, which faces west in the sky as Leo appears to be seated in profile.

Sunrise: 06:43
Sunset: 5:44 p.m.
Moon setting: 9:53
Moon phase: Waning gibbous (63%)

Wednesday February 23
The last quarter moon occurs at 5:32 p.m. EST. Rising half an hour past midnight, you will find our satellite floating on the boundary of Libra and Scorpio, sitting about 5° northwest of the clutches of Scorpio. A few hours later, the rest of the arachnid’s body has risen, and you can follow a line traveling southeast from the Moon through Delta (δ) and Pi (π) Scorpii to the red luminary vivid 1st magnitude Antares, often depicted as the heart of Scorpio. Less than 1.5° west of Antares is the globular cluster M4, just on the edge of naked-eye visibility at magnitude 5.6 and best seen with binoculars or a telescope, especially with the Moon still lit nearby.

Keep going southeast to see Scorpius’ long, curved tail, ending in Shaula and Lesath, who form his stinger. To the upper left of these stars (northeast) are two open star clusters: 3rd magnitude M7, 4.6° east-northeast of stinger; and M6 of magnitude 4, 5° north-northeast of it. Both are visible to the naked eye in good conditions and can be seen easily with binoculars or any small scope.

Sunrise: 06:42
Sunset: 5:45 p.m.
Moonrise: 00:30
Moon setting: 10:28
Moon phase: Waning gibbous (52%)

Thursday February 24
After its conjunction with the Sun earlier this month, Saturn is now emerging from dawn dusk. Rising about half an hour before the Sun, the ringed planet shines at magnitude 0.8 and shares western Capricorn with Mercury, now at magnitude 0. 20 minutes before sunrise, Saturn is only 3° up in the brightening sky, while Mercury is twice that, easier to spot from where it sits Saturn’s top right.

Farther west along the ecliptic, you can’t miss Venus and Mars, both in Sagittarius. Venus is the brightest object you’ll see in the sky at magnitude -4.8, just beginning to fade from its greatest brilliance at the start of the month. Meanwhile, the Red Planet is dimmer than everything else, glowing softly at magnitude 1.3 about 5.5° south of Venus. Both of these planets rise much earlier — around 4:30 a.m. local time — so you can catch them in darker skies to also enjoy the rich backdrop of stars and dust they’re passing through right now.

Sunrise: 6:40 a.m.
Sunset: 5:47 p.m.
Moonrise: 01:44
Moon setting: 11:11 a.m.
Moon phase: Ascending descending (41%)

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