In today’s article, we’ll tell you about noteworthy galaxies and star clusters visible this month. The dates provided in our list designate the time when objects are highest in the sky, therefore most easily viewed.
What are deep-sky objects?
The term “deep-sky object” denotes three types of space objects that exist outside our Solar System — galaxies, nebulae, and star clusters. They are listed in dozens of deep-sky catalogs, with the most popular among amateur astronomers being the Messier catalog (110 entries) and the NGC catalog (7,850 entries). Astronomers also use other catalogs that list different types of deep-sky objects:
- Caldwell (star clusters, nebulae, galaxies);
- Collinder (open star clusters);
- Melotte (open and globular clusters);
- IC (star clusters, nebulae, galaxies);
- Barnard (dark nebulae) and more.
You can explore these catalogs in the astronomy app Sky Tonight which includes more than 90,000 deep-sky objects. All of them are available for free! To find an object you’re interested in, tap the magnifier icon, write the object’s name or catalog designation in the search field, and choose it from the list. The app will show you detailed information about it. To locate this object in the sky above, tap on the target icon.
February 5: Mars and M22
Let’s start with a curious event related to deep-sky objects. On February 5, at 8:48 GMT (3:48 a.m. EST), Mars and Messier 22 will make a very close approach in the sky, passing within 11.2 arcminutes from each other — it’s three times less than the visible size of a Full Moon. Such distance allows observers to view the objects together via a telescope or binoculars.
On the night of approach, the Red Planet will have a magnitude of 1.3 and M22 — a magnitude of 5.2. They both will be located in the constellation Sagittarius.
Mars and M22 form a contrasting pair: the Red Planet is now 330 million km away, which means that the light takes about 18 minutes to reach the Earth. On the opposite, M22, a globular cluster, is so far away that its light takes 10,000 years to reach our planet.
February 8: NGC 2808
NGC 2808 is one of the Milky Way’s most massive globular star clusters — it contains millions of stars. On February 8, it will shine with a magnitude of 6.2 in the constellation Carina. You can’t see this star cluster with the naked eye; it is visible only through binoculars or a telescope. NGC 2808 is a Southern Hemisphere’s target and is unobservable from locations north of 5° north latitude.
February 19: Bode’s Galaxy
Bode’s Galaxy (M81 or NGC 3031) is a large and bright spiral galaxy that is also known as the “grand design” spiral galaxy. This means that the galaxy’s shape is clearly defined, and it has a well-organized spiral structure. On February 19, M81 will have a magnitude of 6.9, which is again too faint for the naked eye. Spot it in the constellation Ursa Major. Note that this galaxy is a northern sky object and can’t be seen from the southern latitudes.
February 21: NGC 3114
NGC 3114 is a star cluster best observable in the Southern Hemisphere. On February 21, its visual magnitude will reach 4.2, meaning you can see it even with the unaided eye. However, you’ll need very sharp eyesight and a dark, clear sky to see it, so it’s easier to observe the cluster via binoculars or a telescope. NGC 3114 will be positioned in the constellation Carina.
February 27: IC2581
IC2581 is the open star cluster that is very similar to the previous member of our list, NGC 3114. It’s also visible only from the southern latitudes and hard to see from the Northern Hemisphere. On February 27, the star cluster will shine slightly brighter than NGC 3114, reaching a magnitude of 4.0. You’ll also find it in the constellation Carina.
Now you know what deep-sky objects are best visible in February. If you manage to see one of them in the sky, don’t hesitate to share your observation experience with us on social media. To get even more knowledge about deep-sky objects, take our fun quiz “Guess the Nebula!”.
We wish you clear skies and successful observations!