Orion Brightens the Skies of February, Accompanied by a Benign Comet and an Additional Day for Astronomy Enthusiasts.

This February 2024 is an exciting time for stargazers, with a variety of cosmic events set to light up the night sky. The article lists a few exciting celestial happenings worth keeping an eye out for during this month. The winter chill in the Northern Hemisphere is said to make the sky clearer and less hazy, making it easier to observe these events.

The most dominant constellation throughout February will be Orion, the Hunter. This constellation is one of the brightest in the sky and can be seen towards the south after midnight local time. Orion is best recognized by the three straight stars that make up its belt at its midsection. The constellation consists of more than a dozen stars, with two of the brightest being Betelgeuse and Rigel. These two supergiant stars shine on Orion’s right shoulder and left foot respectively.

On Valentine’s Day, February 14th, Comet C/2021 S3 (PanSTARRS) will reach its closest point to the sun, known as perihelion. The comet is expected to shine brightly (at magnitude 7.3), making it quite visible on a clear night. For those residing in the northeastern United States, the best time to view the comet is two hours before dawn, looking towards the southeastern horizon. Following this, the comet will make its closest approach to Earth on March 14th.

Another fascinating event is the Full Snow Moon, which will peak on February 24th at 7:30 a.m. EST. Despite peaking in the morning, the moon will appear full the preceding Friday night. The Snow Moon, named for the month’s characteristic heavy snowfall, will rise above the horizon towards the east around sunset, reaching its highest point around midnight.

Finally, the end of February brings the astronomical event of Leap Day on February 29th. Earth’s revolution around the sun takes approximately 365.2422 days, creating an extra six hours each year that are not included in the calendar. To compensate for this, every four years an extra day is added to the calendar at the end of February. Without Leap Day, annual events like solstices and equinoxes would slowly shift to later in the year.

Overall, February is a great month for stargazing, with unique celestial events and constellations to observe. As always, the best viewing conditions are in dark spots away from city lights, with your eyes adjusted to the darkness for about a half an hour.

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