Our Speedy Moon
Look up with the February 2017 sky map to navigate the stars and constellations in the night sky. On this page is both a color sky map and a black and white printable map to bring outside!
Just click here or on the image below to open the printable map—then bring outside!
Our Speedy Moon
The night sky is always in motion. There is the daily motion caused by Earth rotating on its axis every 24 hours. There is the annual motion resulting from our planet revolving around the Sun once a year. The planets move, too, as they journey around the Sun. Mercury is the planet with the shortest “year,” zipping once around the Sun every 88 days. Neptune takes its time, with a “year” that’s 165 times the length of our year.
Then there is our speedy Moon, a world of superlatives. She (the Moon is often “she”) is by far the brightest of all nighttime celestial objects. She’s closer as well, less than a quarter million miles away. When we gaze at the Moon, it’s the same Moon looked upon by Plato, Shakespeare, and Einstein. And one more remarkable Moon fact: Human beings have actually BEEN there—something you can’t say about any other object in the sky. The Moon revolves around Earth every 29 days or so. To accomplish this feat, she has to move fast. We don’t often notice how quickly the Moon moves from night to night, but when she’s close to bright planets or stars, her rapid motion becomes readily apparent.
On February 14, 15, and 16, we’re offered a nice opportunity to observe our speedy Moon as she races past both a bright planet and a bright star. The action takes place in the southeast sky, and you must stay up past midnight for the best view.
- In the first hours of February 14, find the Moon and note her location well above the planet Jupiter and the bright star Spica. Also, notice the phase (apparent shape) of the Moon—a fat “gibbous” shape but less than full.
- One night later, Jupiter and Spica will remain exactly where they were, but the Moon will be much closer to them, forming a close trio of objects. The Moon will appear to have shrunk a bit, still gibbous but less so.
- Just 24 hours later, on the 16th, our Moon will be below Jupiter and Spica, having zoomed past them and become even thinner. On subsequent nights, the Moon will continue to race farther down and to the left.
February 2017 Sky Map
Click here or on image below to enlarge this map (PDF).
Sky map produced using Chris Marriott’s Skymap Pro
The Spring Triangle
While you are enduring what may be some freezing nights of Moon watching, take consolation in the fact that spring is not far away. In fact, the aforementioned star Spica in Virgo, the Virgin, forms one corner of the so-called Spring Triangle. The other two stars in the triangle are Arcturus in Boötes, the Herdsman, and Regulus in Leo, the Lion. Over the next couple of months, the Spring Triangle will rise higher each night, and the three constellations will dominate the southern sky.
Hydra, The Water Snake
Stretching across much of our map is the constellation Hydra, the Water Snake. It’s the largest of the 88 constellations, but the bright Moon can wash out most of its stars except for Alphard at the snake’s heart. However, if you wait until the last week of February, the Moon will be new (dark from our viewpoint), and the long, sinuous body of Hydra will be easier to see.
Careful readers of Harry Potter may note that three star names on this month’s map—Regulus, Arcturus, and Alphard—are also used as names of people in the books. In fact, author J. K. Rowling utilized dozens of celestial names for characters in the series.
Enjoy astronomy? Check out Bob Berman’s column, “This Week’s Amazing Sky.”