February 9, 2022: After sunset, the gibbous moon, Aldebaran, and the Hyades snugly fit into a binocular field. Jupiter is low in the west-southwest. Before sunup, brilliant Venus, Mercury, and Mars are in the southeast.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 6:54 a.m. CST; Sunset, 5:16 p.m. CST. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.
This evening the moon – 64% illuminated – is high in the south-southeast after sunset. The lunar orb, Aldebaran, and the Hyades star cluster fit snugly into a binocular’s field of view.
Aldebaran and the Hyades form a sideways “V,” marking the head of Taurus.
In the pancake-shape of the galaxy, stars form in bunches in large interstellar clouds. The Pleiades star cluster – the Seven Sisters – may be the most famous galactic or open cluster. Clusters – like the Pleiades that are full of bright blue stars – are relatively younger than stellar bunches with yellow and red stars.
Open clusters usually have a few hundred stars and ample space between the cluster members, compared to the globular clusters that have perhaps a million star that seemed to be packed tightly together.
Stars that are blue consume their nuclear fuels faster than the yellow stars. The bluer stars tend to shine brighter because they are more massive that sun-like stars. The blue stars’ cores change to helium. To consume the fuel, the cores burn hotter, but the outer layers expand and redden. Aldebaran is one such star.
Aldebaran is not part of the Hyades star cluster, but it is a bright red giant star along the same line of sight, and only about half the distance to the stellar bundle.
Venus is “the bright star” shining low in the southeast during morning twilight. Find it over 15° above the horizon at 45 minutes before sunrise. This morning the planet rises nearly two hours, 30 minutes before sunup.
At this hour, dimmer Mars is 7.0° to the lower right of Venus. Mars passes the star Nunki tomorrow morning. The Red Planet is 3.0° to the upper left of the star this morning. Use a binocular to see Mars near the star.
In a week Mars moves past Venus for the second conjunction of a triple conjunction. Venus’ retrograde ended on January 30. As Venus picks up its eastward speed along the ecliptic, The Red Planet passes it. The conjunction is fairly wide, 6.2°.
The third planet, Mercury, is about 5° up in the east-southeast, 13.3° to the lower left of Venus. This speedy planet rises over 80 minutes before sunrise. Mercury rises at this time interval for the next two mornings. Then it starts rising later each morning. When it reaches its greatest elongation from the sun in a week, it loses six minutes of rising time, and during the following week, Mercury loses another 12 minutes, moving back into bright morning twilight.
As night falls while the moon is high in the sky near the Hyades star cluster, bright Jupiter is over 8° above the west-southwest horizon. This evening, the Jovian Giant sets 90 minutes after sunset, a few minutes before the end of evening twilight. It sets four minutes earlier each evening. In a week it sets an hour after sundown.
Jupiter passes behind the sun on March 5 and slowly enters the morning sky. After its entrance, four bright planets are in the southeastern sky before sunrise. It joins Venus, Mars, and Saturn.
- 2023, October 20: Jupiter’s Double Shadows, Mercury at Superior ConjunctionOctober 20: After midnight, Jupiter’s moons’ shadows dance across the cloud tops. Mercury is at superior conjunction.
- 2023, October 19: Poured Moon, See Planet UranusOctober 19: Sagittarius seems to pour the moon into the sky this evening. Find Uranus with a binocular.
- 2023, October 18: Moon-Antares Conjunction, Bright PlanetsOctober 18, 2023: The moon is near Antares after sunset. Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn are in the sky during the nighttime hours.
- 2023, October 17: Scorpion MoonOctober 17, 2023: The crescent moon is with Scorpius during evening twilight. Venus and Jupiter gleam from the predawn sky.
- 2023, October 16: Venus in Starry ConjunctionOctober 16, 2023: Venus passes a star in Leo before sunrise. A crescent moon is low in the western sky during evening twilight.