February 19, 2022: Venus and Mars continue their planet dance in the morning sky, while the gibbous moon is in the west-southwest. Gemini is in the east-southeast after sunset.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 6:41 a.m. CST; Sunset, 5:29 p.m. CST. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.
The morning planet dance continues in the southeast before sunrise. Brilliant Venus is 16.0° above the southeast horizon at 45 minutes before sunrise.
Mars, much dimmer than Venus, is 6.0° to the lower right of the brilliant planet. They both fit within a binocular field, along with Albaldah – “the city.”
The planets are moving eastward in Sagittarius. Mars passed Venus three mornings ago. The Red Planet is moving eastward faster than Earth’s Twin.
Venus’ slow apparent motion is because it stopped retrograding on January 30 and it is now slowly picking up eastward speed along the ecliptic. Venus passes Mars again on March 6 for the final meeting of a triple conjunction series.
Farther west at this hour, the bright, gibbous moon – 92% illuminated – is nearly one-third of the way up in the west-southwest, 15.2° to the lower left of Denebola and 6.2° to the lower right of Porrima.
The winter stars shine brightly from the southern sky during winter evenings. Gemini is high in the southeast after sunset. The constellation resembles a rectangle with two brighter stars – Pollux and Castor on the northern (left) end of the pattern. In a closer inspection, the stars make side-by-side human stick figures.
Pollux, the lower Twin, is brighter, shining as the 16th brightest star visible from the night skies of Earth. Castor is the 45th brightest. Pollux is about 30 light years away while Castor is nearly double that distance.
The pair easily fits into a binocular field of view. One star is distinctly blue-white and the other is yellow-orange. Take a look and tell us what you see in the comments section. Which one is blue-white and which is yellow-orange?
Interestingly, Castor is a six-star system. We see the brightest star in the pack. A second, dimmer star revolves around the brightest star. Another binary star (Castor B) revolves around the main system, while yet another binary (Castor C) revolves around the other four.
Pollux seems to be a single star, but it has a planet named Thestias that is thought to be larger than Jupiter.
When twin stick figures are perceived, Castor’s foot can be identified – Propus (toe) and Tejat Posterior (heel).
Note Alhena – “the brand mark” – at a foot of Pollux. It is only slightly dimmer than Castor. This star is about 100 light years away.
A star cluster, cataloged as Messier 35 (M35) is near Castor’s toe. It can be seen without a binocular from a dark spot or with a binocular from suburban backyards. Each month, the moon passes by and planets pass this way on occasions.
Tomorrow, another evening constellation is surveyed.
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