February 2023 is a fantastic time to easily view two of the unique planets in our solar system. Both the gas giant Jupiter and our scorching sister planet, Venus, are brilliant in the night sky this month. Even in regions with terrible light pollution, like New York City, these planetary diamonds shine bright.
“All month long, you’ll notice the two brightest planets in the sky, Jupiter and Venus, appear closer together each evening,” writes NASA(Opens in a new tab).
How to see Jupiter and Venus
It’s extremely easy. And you don’t need any equipment.
“Find them in the west in the hour or so after sundown,” NASA explains.
You’ll see Jupiter above, and Venus — which is the third brightest celestial object in the night sky (behind the sun and moon) — below. As February progresses, the planets are moving closer together in the sky.
A NASA graphic showing where to see Venus and Jupiter in the night sky on Feb. 22.
Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech
Of course, these vivid planets aren’t the only intriguing objects to see in February. For example, with the help of binoculars, you can spot two clusters of stars.
“All month long, observers with access to a good pair of binoculars or a small telescope can hunt for two easy star clusters using the brightest star in the sky as a guidepost,” NASA explains. “They’re two open star clusters, M41 and M47. They’re called ‘open’ because their stars are close together in space, but in sort of a diffuse structure.” The guidepost is Sirius, which is easy to find in the south skies during winter. M41 is just south of Sirius. If you’re up for the star cluster hunt, the space agency has more details on its sky-viewing webpage(Opens in a new tab).
And, let us not forget our deeply cratered natural satellite, the moon. By Feb. 27, it will have reached its first quarter. But watch for this lunar sighting: Also on Feb. 27, in the southwest after sunset, Mars will make a close appearance near the moon. They’ll be under a degree apart, NASA noted.
Wild planets in our cosmic backyard
It’s a treat to be able to view nearby celestial objects with our naked eye as sunlight reflects off them. The two planets in view now, Venus and Jupiter, are wildly different worlds:
Venus: Venus is a rocky planet that’s about the same size of Earth. It’s also the closest planet to us. But on the ground, its environs are hotter than a pizza oven, at some 900 degrees Fahrenheit(Opens in a new tab). The planet’s thick layers of greenhouse gases, like the potent carbon dioxide, trap copious amounts of heat. Its upper atmosphere, however, hosts more moderate, reasonable climes.
Jupiter: Jupiter is a gas giant planet, containing over twice the mass of all other planets in our solar system combined. Thick clouds and storms (largely of hydrogen and helium) swirl around the surface, including the Great Red Spot, which NASA notes has “raged for over a century.”(Opens in a new tab) Jupiter contains a whopping 92 known moons(Opens in a new tab), including the fascinating world Europa, which harbors an icy ocean beneath its cracked shell.