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Discover the night sky

In February

Also find out how
you can be a
citizen scientist

Stargazing
... 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.

Explore some stellar topics this month: A Comprehensive Table of Contents

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

Join a Globe at Night survey as a citizen scientist

Globe at Night is a citizen science programme where people measure the darkness of the night sky. 

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. 

At Star Safari, we encourage all our visitors to become a citizen scientist and help Globe at Night figure out how much energy we, humans, waste, illuminating the skies at night. Nestled within the world’s 21st Dark Sky Reserve in Wairarapa, Star Safari isn’t just a destination—it’s a movement. 

Through Spaceward Bound New Zealand, we provide educational programmes for schools that explain the effects of light pollution to students and teachers. We also include Globe at Night. 

Also check out Look After Our Night Sky exhibition we created to support the announcement for the Wairarapa Dark Sky Reserve. 🌟🌌🔭

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.

Below are a couple of articles you can read about Globe at night

Globe at night

What’s Globe at Night looking at this month:

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.

Plan your stargazing

It might sound silly because everyone knows that stargazing is done outside, at night and if is not cloudy but you would be surprised how much planning goes into it.

First, the sky is genuinely dark when the Sun is 12 degrees below the horizon. This is what is called night. For astrophotography, you wish to have a sky as dark as possible. 

 

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

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, that is, what are you planning to look at?

Favourite astronomy / space apps

SkySafari 7 Pro
Stargazing
@space_samuel

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 »

What's in the sky

The Milky Way

By definition, the Milky Way is the sum of 150 billion stars, so bright that from Earth we can see them as a continuous band of light. Some of these stars we can resolve (stargazer’s slang for distinguish) with our eye, some other with binoculars and telescopes. 

The Milky Way is so striking here in New Zealand that everyone should find directions by it. By the way, the Pole Star is overrated (you would know if you ever spent lots of time trying to find it). On top of that, is not even visible from New Zealand. So, if you need directions here, just follow the Milky Way. It will lead you to the Southern Cross. The Southern Cross is in the Milky Way. A few more steps and you will know precisely where the south is.

Stars of highest apparent magnitude

This is the correct way of saying brightest stars as viewed from Earth.

Just because a star is bright, it doesn’t mean is also close.

Alpha and Omega

A great example of the deceiving way in which things appear to the unaided eye at night.

Astronomers designated “alpha” to name the brightest stars in a constellation and “omega” the dimmest. 

Here is an example of Alpha Centauri (photo by NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope) and Omega Centauri (photo by Sam @spacesamuel)

Alpha and Omega also means the beginning and the end, a very powerful symbol. 

We love keeping an eye on these two objects. From Star Safari, Wairarapa, NZ they are circumpolar and so they are always in the sky. 

Circumpolar Stars

Stars of the circumpolar region never set never rise, they move around in a circle in 23 hours and 56 minutes. 

Because of that, they are at different heights in the sky at different times of the night or of the year if you look at them just after sunset. 

The Milky Way traverses a section of the circumpolar region. 

Other asterism are The Fish in the Frying Pan, The Diamond Cross, the False Cross. 

Canopus and Achernar are also circumpolar stars as seen from New Zealand and so are the Magellanic Clouds, our pet galaxies. 

The Moon

The Moon is the enemy of the Milky Way, and faint objects observing. It casts so much light that dim, deep sky objects wash out in the Moonlight. The Moon is like a giant reflector, reflecting light from the Sun. And yet, according to NASA, the Moon has a very low albedo: 0.07. Albedo is the amount of light reflected by an object compared to the light it receives. So the Moon only reflects 0.07% of the light it receives from the Sun, yet it is so bright!

Remember to always check out the Moon when you plan your stargazing.

This can be particularly disappointing if you plan to photograph the night sky.

Moon Facts 101

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!

The Sun this month

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.

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°).

Come stargazing with us in Wairarapa

Main objects to watch this month

Bulls

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.

Twins

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. 

Gastronomy

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 …

A wee table for those who like lots of detail

This table gives you by default what’s in the sky for the dates that you are browsing. If you wish to look at a different month, use the arrows to change the month. 

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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.