Friday, February 17
Venus reaches greatest brilliancy today, when it shines at magnitude –4.8 (magnitude –4.85, to be more precise). That makes it 10 times brighter than the evening sky’s second-brightest object, Jupiter. Although today marks the inner planet’s official peak, it doesn’t dip below magnitude –4.8 until early March.
Jupiter reaches aphelion at 2 a.m. EST. This is the point in its 12-year orbit around the Sun where it lies farthest from our star, at a distance of 507.2 million miles (816.3 million kilometers).
Saturday, February 18
Last Quarter Moon occurs at 2:33 p.m. EST. Look for it either before dawn this morning (when it lies among the background stars of Libra and looks slightly more than half-lit) or after it rises around 1:30 a.m. local time tomorrow (when it stands near the Scorpius-Ophiuchus border and appears as a fat crescent).
If the Last Quarter Moon looks a little smaller to you today, it may not be your imagination. Our satellite reaches apogee, the farthest point in its orbit around Earth, at 4:14 p.m. EST. It then lies 251,268 miles (404,376 kilometers) from Earth’s center.
Sunday, February 19
One of the sky’s largest asterisms — a recognizable pattern of stars separate from a constellation’s form — occupies center stage on February evenings. To trace the so-called Winter Hexagon, start with southern Orion’s luminary, Rigel. From there, the hexagon makes a clockwise loop. The second stop is brilliant Sirius in Canis Major. Next, pick up Procyon in the faint constellation Canis Minor, then the twins Castor and Pollux in Gemini, followed by Capella in Auriga, Aldebaran in Taurus, and finally back to Rigel.