February 8, 2022: Three planets – Venus, Mercury, and Mars – are in the southeastern sky before sunrise. As night falls, Jupiter is low in the west-southwest. The moon is near the Pleiades star cluster.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 6:55 a.m. CST; Sunset, 5:15 p.m. CST. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.
Venus, Mercury, and Mars are bunching together, low in the southeastern sky before sunrise. In about a week, Mars passes Venus.
At forty-five minutes before sunrise, Morning Star Venus is over 15° up in the southeast. Mars is 7.1° to the lower right of Venus.
Venus stopped retrograding – moving westward compared to the stars – on January 30. It is beginning to pick up eastward speed, but Mars passes by in a wide conjunction on February 16. This is the second conjunction of a triple that began last summer. The third conjunction occurs when Venus passes Mars again on March 6.
A conjunction is defined to occur when two planets have the same celestial longitude. That means that there’s a coordinate system in the sky based on the ecliptic – the plane of the solar system. The grid has gradations of longitude and latitude, measured in degrees like Earth’s system of longitude and latitude centered on the equator.
Mars is 3.3° above the star Nunki, in the handle of the Teapot of Sagittarius. The Red Planet passes the star in two mornings.
Mercury is 13.1° to the lower left of Venus. This speedy planet is only 5° above the horizon at this hour.
Mercury is brightening, but it stopped retrograding on February 4. It is moving eastward along the ecliptic and the gap to Venus increases. Mercury reaches its greatest separation from the sun on February 16 – the morning of the Venus – Mars conjunction – while receding into morning twilight. It continues to brighten along the way.
After the sky darkens after sundown, Jupiter is “that bright star,” low in the west-southwest. It is lower that 9° in altitude at forty-five minutes after sunset. It appears lower in the sky each evening.
Jupiter reaches its solar conjunction on March 5 and starts a slow climb into the morning sky, joining Morning Star Venus, and Saturn.
Farther eastward, the moon, 54% illuminated is high in the southern sky. This moon phase is bright enough to cast shadows and create a glare.
The Pleiades star cluster is 7.1° to the upper left of the lunar orb. The moon and part of the cluster fit snugly into a binocular field of view. Once you find the cluster with the moon, move the binocular enough so that the entire cluster fits into the field of view and the moon is on the outside of it. The view of the star cluster is easier without the moon’s intensity.
The Hyades star cluster and the star Aldebaran are to the left of the moon, outside a binocular field. Extend your hand as you would to block the sun’s glare to see the stars. Tomorrow, the moon, Hyades, and Aldebaran fit snugly into the binocular’s field of view.
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