After a stunning month of stargazing in January, what does the short month of February have in store? Below are several moments in the coming days and weeks that you won't want to miss. Here's hoping for clear skies!
A month without a full moon
Because January had two moons (with the most recent being the much-lauded super blue blood moon), the month of February will miss out on full moon lighting up its night sky. As you might guess, this is a fairly rare phenomenon, with only about four such instances each century. March, in turn, will receive two full moons (and consequently, a blue moon).
SpaceX to launch the Falcon Heavy (Feb. 6)
Once operational, the Falcon Heavy will be able to launch payloads up to 140,700 pounds into low-Earth orbit. (Photo: SpaceX)
After a successful static fire test in January, the daylight hours of Feb. 6 have been declared the window when SpaceX's Falcon Heavy will finally make its historic first launch.
Last month, the private space company began erecting the 229-foot-tall rocket on launch pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center. Its dummy cargo? No less than Elon Musk's own cherry-red Tesla Roadster. The Falcon Heavy is composed of two refurbished Falcon 9 boosters and one newly designed central core stage. In all, 27 engines will fire, giving the rocket the ability to carry up to 119,000 pounds of cargo into low-Earth orbit. If successful — and even Musk has his doubts as to how the first launch will go — the Falcon Heavy will become the most powerful rocket ever built.
"There’s a real good chance that it does not make it to orbit," Musk said this summer. "I hope it gets far enough away from the launch pad that it does not cause pad damage – I would consider that a win."
Partial solar eclipse (Feb. 15)
A partial solar eclipse will take place over portions of South America and Antarctica on Feb. 15. (Photo: Bryce Bradford/flickr)
The first of three partial eclipses in 2018 will take place on Feb. 15, with a few lucky souls getting a peek in countries like Chile, Uruguay and Argentina, as well as Antarctica and the South Pacific and South Atlantic oceans. Viewers on the extreme southern coasts of New Zealand and Australia may also be able to spy the eclipse. Regardless, this eclipse is not a total solar eclipse like last August's big event and, at its maximum, will only cover about 60 percent of the sun's surface.
For the timing of the partial eclipse in your location, check out EarthSky's coverage of the event here.
Zodiacal light (All February)
The zodiacal light is best viewed during the spring and fall. (Photo: European Southern Observatory/flickr)
Best viewed just after sunset, the zodiacal light is a cone-shaped, hazy light that can be seen emanating just over the western horizon. According to EarthSky, this solar system phenomenon is caused by "sunlight reflecting off dust grains that circle the sun in the inner solar system." A 2010 study found that nearly 85 percent of the dust was caused by fragmentation from Jupiter-family comets.
While light pollution makes viewing the zodiacal light something of a challenge, those in darker areas of the world should have a solid shot at viewing this celestial phenomenon.
Editor's note: This story was originally written in January 2017 and has been updated with new information.