Discover the night sky

In February

Also find out how
you can be a
citizen scientist


... What's in the sky at a glance

Learn about Gastronomy in February, Bulls, Dogs, Beehives and a month packed with action as we have a comet visiting, the Moon making too much light and the centre of the Milky Way around the corner.

Table of Contents

February is our Gastronomy Month. Milky Way stretches from the Pot to the Frying Pan and in between are hot dogs and fish. Bulls, twins, hunters with cats and dogs and beehives and lions are to the north. The brightest stars shine beautifully as we look towards the edge of our galaxy.

The greatest binocular objects are those you can see. That might go without saying but have you thought of buying a tripod for your binoculars so that you will not worry about getting tired of holding them up? Great objects this month are Jupiter, Mars, Orion’s nebula, the Pleiades, the Beehive, and following the Milky Way anything on the Carina-Crux region.

There’s some great planetary nebulae visible in February. Top of the list, and easy to find is the Ghost of Jupiter Nebula (NGC3242). This is a bright little nebula that is quite easy to find in Hydra near to Mu Hydrae. Next is a fantastic little planetary in the large cluster M46. This cluster is easy to spot as it’s next to the quite bright cluster, M47, in the Milky Way close to Canis Major. The little planetary nebula is in M46 and resembles a little gray ball in the 7 o’clock position of the cluster (which would be 1 o’clock once the view is rotated 180 degrees). NGC2438 needs a good sized telelscope. The Blue Planetary Nebula (NGC3918) is in a good position in February. It is about the distance of the short axis of the Southern Cross from the same axis, heading up the Milky Way towards the star Pi Centauri. This looks like a little blue fuzzy star, a 15mm eyepiece will show it up pretty well, large eyepieces will make it a bit hard to spot as it’s not very big – though it is bright. Spiral Planetary Nebula (NGC5189) is another awesome object to look at. It’s in the constellation Musca near the Coal Sack. This is a great object that our friend, Ian Cooper, showed us. If you’ve got an OIII filter then this will show up some great detail in it.

As you learn more about the night sky, why don’t you

Join a Globe at Night survey this month as a citizen scientist

A study conducted by researchers from the GFZ German Research Center for Geosciences, the Ruhr-Universität Bochum and the US National Science Foundation’s NOIRLab, dubbed the “Globe at Night” Citizen Science Project, included 50,000 naked eye night sky observations made by volunteers between 2011 and 2022.

It revealed that satellite measurements misreported the amount of existing light pollution: (1) by missing the horizontal light  – such as light from advertising or billboards. (2) because current satellites measuring it are less sensitive to blue light.

Just like the 50,000 citizen scientists participating in the study, you can help for the 2023 round. This is also a great opportunity to know your night sky. 

All you need to do is count the number of stars on your street (or any place you like really) and report it anonymously to Globe at Night.

Also check out

Globe at night

Globe at Night features:

Orion & Canis Major

The measurements taken for the Globe at Night must be done on a moonless night. This is why Globe at Night recommends they are done around the New Moon.

How to plan your stargazing

It might sound silly because everyone knows that stargazing is done at night, but you would be surprised how much planning goes into it.

First, the sky is genuinely dark when the Sun is 12 degrees under the horizon. This is what is called night.

Twilight is the period between sunset and night. During that time, we indirectly see scattered light from the Sun after it sets.

So for a successful stargazing night, you must know your sunset and sunrise times and the phase of the Moon and of course, your targets for the night. 

Is a good idea for any stargazing party to know your sunset /sunrise and moonset/moonrise times. It’s always great to keep informed if anything special will happen while you’re out stargazing – for instance, if certain Planets are in the sky, if there is a meteor shower, a conjunction or even if the International Space Station is passing overhead.

Some people have alerts on their phones about these things and auroras. Most stargazing apps have all of these details and also allow you to make observation lists – which are very handy. 

Some astronomy / space apps we checked and use

SkySafari 7 Pro
A Review of SkySafari 7 Pro

The app we use to navigate around the night sky is SkySafari 7 Pro. Developed by Simulation Curriculum Corp, this app is a great way to learn about stars, planets and deep sky objects.

Read More »

Plan your observing around the Sun

The last month of Summer in the Southern Hemisphere, February, is hot, and in New Zealand is also when most schools start their year. This is perfect for solar astronomy.

On February 1st, the Sun rises almost half an hour later than on January 1st, at 6:25 and sets nearly 20 minutes earlier than last month, at 8:42.

By the end of February, the Sun rises at 6:59 a.m. ↑ (102°) and sets at 8:06 p.m. ↑ (259°).

Also remember to check out the Moon

For stargazing, you must know what phase of the Moon it is. This is because the Moon makes light pollution which washes out most deep sky objects, so what you can see through a telescope when the Moon is in the sky is different than when the Moon is not.

Moon Myth

The Moon is immense near the horizon because we look at it through a layer of air.

FALSE. Take your pinky and hold it at arm’s length. Then, put it on top of the “immense” Moon. You can also try looking at the Moon, keeping your head between your legs if you dare – I wish I did not skip that Yoga class now. The Moon will change dimensions all of a sudden. This is due to the “Moon Illusion”; according to NASA, it is all in our heads. (The Moon Illusion: Why Does the Moon Look So Big Sometimes?) Their recommendation? Just enjoy it!

Come stargazing with us in Wairarapa

An overview of the night sky this month


From the ancient Lascaux caves dwellers 17,500 years ago to the inhabitants of today’s Bulls in New Zealand, cows have fascinated people throughout millennia and across the world. The most famous of them is Taurus – the Bull. This month and next are your last chance to see it after sunset. It will reappear in the morning sky of June. The Bull is made of many stars. Inside the patch of the sky that makes the Bull, two-star clusters stand out – the Hyades, our closest cute neighbours, about 110 light years away, looks like the “Less than” – “<” sign and the Pleiades, 410 light years away, both just beautiful. The light we see today from the Pleiades left the cluster when Galileo Galilei invented the telescope as he was looking at them from Earth. Pretty mindblowing if you think about it. Aldebaran, the eye of the Bull, is a star that happens to be in the line of sight with the Hyades, a beautiful red giant, which is also great to see through the telescope, about 65 light years away.


Next in line is the Celestial Twins Constellation of Gemini. They are upside down. Castor is the lower star to the west, and Pollux follows it. This fantastic photo was taken in 2017 by Rogelio Bernal Andreo (Deep Sky Colors) and showed the colour difference between the two stars.

Both stars are close by, approximately 30 (Pollux) and 50 (Castor) light years away.

Hunters with cats and dogs

The next stop is our oldie but goldie Orion the Hunter. Giants, Betelgeuse and Rigel, are in a great position to observe this month. Marvel at Sirius, the dog star, is next and following it closely, and Canopus, the cat star, is to the south. 

Beehives and lions

As you leave the train station in Wellington, the Beehive stands out against the beautiful Te Ahumairangi hill. There is a beehive in the sky as well. It looks like a small triangle with a swarm of stars. Best seen with your averted vision, the Beehive is a group of stars in the constellation of Cancer the Crab. To the right of it, an upside-down sickle makes the Lion, with the bright star Regulus. 


Myth: Gastronomy is a branch of astronomy concerned with food since eating is still one of the main things people worry about, even when they go to space.

While gastronomy is not astronomy, many objects in the night sky remind us of it. 

Starting in the west, at the edge of the Milky Way, is The Pot – or The SaucepanThis asterism (group of stars) is recognized country-wide here in New Zealand. Then, following the Milky Way, the Hot Dog is made of Procyon and Gomeisa, stars in Canis Minor. Former Carter Observatory astronomer and astronomy educator Frank Andrews often mentioned the Hot Dog asterism, noting that it was impossible to make a proper dog out of only two stars visible in Canis Minor

Follow the Milky Way south, and you will see another asterism invented by a group of kids from Christchurch years ago – The Fish in the Frying Pan. The Fish is the Southern Cross; next to it, under dark skies, you can see a dark patch of interstellar dust. This patch is known as the coalsack, but Māori call it Te Patiki – The Flounder. So you have the Unknown Fish and The Flounder in the Frying pan.

At the edge of The Fish, a fly – Musca, is checking out what’s with the delicious smell. We will put the lid here for food safety and see you next month with more amazing celestial adventures. 

Venus – the forgotten planet
Venus doesn’t capture a lot of press time as it’s often overshadowed …

In February, we have a special comet to watch ZTF that is brightest on the 1st of February. Mercury will reach its highest altitude in the morning sky on the 3rd of February.

Mars is in the night sky and Mercury is in the morning. Venus is great to observe as well. Jupiter is making its way to sinking behind the Sun for a while. 

The name February comes from Latin, februum which means … cleaning, or purging. Many translate it as “purification” but it is likely that its meaning is closer to “fever” – “febbre” in Italian, “fièvre” in French and “febra” in Romanian. As the last month of the winter, February must have been a good reason for spring cleaning.

During ancient times in Rome, in the middle of February, people would celebrate a festival called Lupercalia, which had the purpose to avert evil spirits and purify the city, releasing health and fertility. Today, we just use detergent but any reason is a good reason to have a party. Lupercalia was also called dies Februatus, after the instruments of purification called februa (now also known as soap), which gave February (Februarius) its name.

At the end of February, another festival, called Terminalia, was held featuring Terminus, the God of endings and boundaries. This particular god also served as inspiration for the planet Terminus, the capital city of the First Foundation, located at the edge of the Galaxy in Isaac Asimov’s books.

On 14 February, otherwise known as Valentine’s day, Voyager Space Craft took a photograph of Earth, known as the Pale Blue Dot.

It’s the month that hosts the extra day for the leap year

February is the last month of Summer here in the Southern Hemisphere, the equivalent of August in the Northern Hemisphere.

Stargaze with us from Wairarapa

If you are in Wairarapa, come stargazing with us.

Wairarapa is now an official Dark Sky Reserve – find out more in our Look after our night sky exhibition here.

We have the best telescope equipment for public viewing on the North Island, with the most extensive range of powerful telescopes for stargazing. And, of course, we have hot chocolate.

Experience astronomy and space in virtual reality VR when the sky is cloudy.

When we are not doing stargazing with the public or with our own telescopes, we turn to SLOOH to explore the Universe. If you are really passionate about astronomy, want to learn more or just expand your knowledge, SLOOH is the next level. See you there, make sure you join the Star Safari club and say hi. 

Learn astronomy online

What is SLOOH?

Patented technology to explore space.  Robotic, mountaintop, online telescopes, live 18+ hours per day.

Curated journey of discovery. Space is a vast wilderness and Slooh is like a national park, with trails and guides. 

Communal exploration of the Universe. Learn from fellow members using the telescopes.

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