February 17, 2022: Venus and Mars are in the morning, as Mercury departs. The moon is in the western morning sky. Jupiter leaves the evening sky. Auriga is nearly overhead.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 6:43 a.m. CST; Sunset, 5:26 p.m. CST. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.
This morning Venus, dimmer Mars and the star Albaldah – “the city” – fit into a binocular field. The Red Planet is 2.3° below Albaldah.
Mercury is retreating into bright twilight. At forty-five minutes before sunrise, the speedy planet is 16.0° to the lower left of Venus and only 4° above the east-southeast horizon. A binocular is needed to initially find the planet. Because it is so low and quickly moving into brighter twilight, we say, “Goodbye!” to Mercury until it reappears in the evening sky and passes near the Pleiades during late April.
At this hour, the bright moon, 99% illuminated, is less than 20° above the western horizon and 8.4° to the upper left of Regulus, the brightest star in Leo.
Jupiter is reaching the end of its evening visibility at forty-five minutes after sunset. It is only 3° above the west-southwest horizon.
At this hour, the moon is low in the east-northeastern sky.
With the moon and bright planets leaving the evening sky, winter’s bright stars are in the southern sky. This evening step outside about two hours after sunset and look nearly overhead. Capella – “the little she goat” – is the bright star that’s there.
The star is the brightest in Auriga, the Charioteer, a misshapen kite or lop-sided pentagon. The shape is made of relatively bright stars that can be seen on any reasonably clear night. To get the pentagon, Elnath, formally one of the horns of Taurus, is included.
Artwork of the figure frequently shows reins in one hand, the she goat and three tiny goats – “the kids” – cuddled in the other arm. There is little mythology to describe the nature of the figure.
Author Peter Lum, in his book, The Stars in our Heaven, suspects that the figure was really a shepherd because the figure lacks the chariot and a horse.
Capella is the sixth brightest star visible from Earth, and the fourth brightest seen at the mid-northern latitudes, after Sirius, Arcturus, and Vega. Through a binocular, that is difficult to use when the star is at this altitude, or a telescope, the star is distinctly yellow-white, like our sun, although at a distance of about 40 light years, it shines with a brightness of over 100 suns.
Capella is relatively far north in the sky, although not as far north as the Big Dipper. Our southern hemisphere readers see the star less than 10° up in the north when it is highest. For those who live at latitudes higher than 47° north, they see the star in the sky every clear night. It never sets from those regions, in the same manner that the Big Dipper does not set from regions a little farther south.
Stop back tomorrow for another constellation in this region of the 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.
- 2023, October 16-22: Celestial Events for the WeekOctober 16-22, 2023: The moon returns to the evening sky. Venus steps eastward in front of Leo, and a meteor shower is visible.
- 2023, October 15: Three Bright PlanetsOctober 15, 2023: Brilliant Venus and Jupiter are visible before sunrise. Saturn is above the southeast horizon after sundown.
- 2023, October 14: Solar Eclipse, Morning PlanetsOctober 14, 2023: A solar eclipse is visible across the western hemisphere. Brilliant Venus and Jupiter are visible before sunrise.
- 2023, October 13: Moon’s Last Glimpse, Bright Morning PlanetsOctober 13, 2023: Before tomorrow’s eclipse, see a razor-thin moon before sunrise. Venus and Jupiter shine brightly during morning twilight.