February 14: 2022: Venus is at its greatest brilliancy this morning. It is joined by Mercury and Mars. Jupiter slips in the evening sky. A bright evening moon.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 6:48 a.m. CST; Sunset, 5:23 p.m. CST. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.
This morning Venus is at its “greatest illuminated extent.” The planet displays a crescent phase through a telescope. This illuminated phase (crescent) covers the largest area of the sky.
On these occasions, Venus is at its greatest brilliancy. In these articles, data from the U.S. Naval Observatory predicts that the planet shows its interval of greatest brightness during February 9 – 14. The human eye may not be able to distinguish the maximum brightness this morning from other recent mornings.
Think about the moon, the crescent phase does not cover the largest area of the lunar globe. The full moon covers the largest area of the sky. The moon’s distance does not vary much during a lunar month.
Venus distance varies greatly. When the planet is at a full phase it is on the other side of the sun, it is four times farther away than this morning’s distance.
Greatest illuminated extent occurs when the phase is 27% and the planet is 40° away from the sun. For those readers who want more information, here’s a semi-technical article about the topic.
Step outside to see this brilliant planet in the morning sky.
Brilliant Venus shines from the southeast during morning twilight. It is joined by Mercury and Mars.
Forty-five minutes before sunrise look for Venus about 16° above the southeast horizon. No other “star” competes with its brightness. Through a small telescope or spotting scope, the planet shows a morning crescent phase that is 27% illuminated.
Venus passed between Earth and the sun – inferior conjunction – on January 8 and seemingly jumped into the morning sky. Its retrograde ended on January 30. It is slowly picking up eastward speed compared to the starry background of Sagittarius.
Mercury is nearing its greatest separation from the sun, but it’s near the east-southeast horizon, less than 5° up in the sky. A binocular is needed to initially find it.
Mars is marching eastward in Sagittarius, 6.4° to the lower right of Venus. Use a binocular to find the stars Nunki and Albaldah – “the city.” This morning. the Red Planet is 3.8° to the upper left of Nunki and 2.4° to the lower right of Albaldah. Mars is below an imaginary line that connects the two stars. The trio easily fits into a binocular field of view.
As Venus accelerates eastward along the plane of the solar system – the ecliptic – Mars passes Venus for the second conjunction of a triple conjunction that began last summer.
Jupiter is the last bright planet in the evening sky, until Mercury arrives for a display during April. The Jovian Giant is slowly sliding into bright twilight. Unlike dimmer Saturn, Jupiter can be seen near the horizon. This evening the planet sets nearly 70 minutes after sundown. In a week it is below the horizon forty-five minutes after sunset. This evening, find it low in the west-southwest, four degrees above the horizon at this time interval.
Two hours after sunset, the bright moon is about halfway up in the east. It is in front of the dim stars of Cancer. The constellation is roughly between the Gemini Twins – Castor and Pollux – and Regulus, the brightest star in Leo. The distance from Pollux to Regulus is over 37°.
The moon typically takes two evenings to traverse Cancer. The constellation’s brightest stars are six times dimmer than those in the famous Big Dipper. A famous star cluster, the Beehive, is about halfway from Pollux to Regulus, about where the moon is this evening. The moon and the cluster fit into the same binocular field. The cluster is 3.3° to the lower right of the gibbous moon. Use the moon’s location to find the cluster, but reduce the lunar glare by moving the binocular slightly to move it out of the field, leaving the Beehive cluster to view.
This evening the moon is 97% illuminated, casting a slight glow to the terrestrial night, bright enough to make shadows. The lunar orb reaches its Full phase on February 16 at 10:56 a.m.
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