Space and Astronomy in February: What to Expect

Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) has steadily approached Earth for the first time in about 50,000 years. On Thursday, February 2, the comet will make its closest approach to our planet, and its green icy ball and tail will be visible from Earth’s surface.

Even if the weather thwarts your chances of seeing the comet that day, there will be a better chance of spotting it, even on February 10, when its proximity to Mars in the night sky may make it easy to find.

By the end of the month, two spacecraft could arrive at the International Space Station, each with important missions.

The first, on February 20, will be an empty Russian Soyuz capsule. The spacecraft’s mission is to provide a ride home for a trio of Russian and American astronauts whose original ride was damaged during what was likely a micrometeor strike in December. That crew of astronauts was expected to return to Earth in March, but may remain in orbit for several more months.

The progress of that flight could affect the timing of Crew-6, a four-astronaut launch to the ISS aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft that will replace the four Crew-5 astronauts. Flying on board Crew-6 are NASA’s Stephen Bowen and Warren Hoburg, Russia’s Andrey Fedyaev and Sultan Alneyadi, who will be the second astronaut from the United Arab Emirates to visit the station.

The first flights of new rockets (or the first flights of existing rockets from new locations) will be the highlight of 2023.

January got off to a mixed start on this front. The company rocket laboratory it had its first flight from a launch pad on Wallops Island in Virginia after previous trips from its New Zealand home base. But an attempt by Virgin Orbit to launch the first orbital rocket from England failed. The company ABL Space Systems also experienced an “energy explosion” during his first pitch.

There are other rockets to watch for in February. In late January, SpaceX completed a fuel test of Starship, its prototype next-generation orbital rocket. The rocket is central to SpaceX’s ambitions to reach Mars and NASA’s plans to return astronauts to the moon. The company may hold a “static fire” this month, where all 33 engines in the rocket’s booster stage ignite while the craft is held in place. If that’s successful, it could set up the rocket’s first flight into orbit in March.