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2022, February 21: Morning Planet Ballet, Evening Dog

The Beehive or Praesepe star cluster (National Science Foundation Photo)

The Beehive or Praesepe star cluster (National Science Foundation Photo).

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February 21, 2022: Venus and Mars dance in the southeastern sky before sunrise.  The bright moon is near Spica.  During the evening the Dog Star is in the southern sky.

Chart Caption – 2022, February 21: Venus and Mars dance in the southeast before sunrise.

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by Jeffrey L. Hunt

Chicago, Illinois:  Sunrise, 6:38 a.m. CST; Sunset, 5:31 p.m. CST.  Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.

Morning Sky

Brilliant Venus  and Mars continue their dance to the east in the southeastern sky before sunrise.  At forty-five minutes before the sun appears, brilliant Venus is over 15° above the horizon.  It is the brightest “star” in the sky, rivaling airplane lights.

Dimmer Mars is 5.8° to the lower right of Venus and 4.5° to the lower left of the star Albaldah – “the city.”  Venus, Mars, and the star snugly fit into a binocular field of view.

After its retrograde ended on January 30, Venus is picking up its eastward rate, catching up to Mars on March 6.  For the next several mornings, the Red Planet moves eastward faster than Venus.

Chart Caption – 2022, February 21: The moon is to the upper left of Spica before sunrise.

At this hour, the bright moon is about one-third of the way up in the southwestern sky, 7.9° to the upper left of Spica – “the ear of corn.”

Jupiter and Saturn are in transition to the morning sky.  Jupiter sets in the southwest 43 minutes after sunset.  It reaches its solar conjunction on March 5 and starts to appear in the morning sky about a month later.  Saturn passed its solar conjunction on February 4 and it is slowly crawling into the morning sky.  It rises 33 minutes before sunrise, appearing just above the horizon at sunup.

Evening Sky

Chart Caption – 2022, February 21: Canis Minor is in the south-southeast during winter’s early evening hours.

Sirius, the night’s brightest star, is about one-third of the way up in the south-southeast during the early evening hours.  Also known as the Dog Star and “the scorching one,” Sirius, is the brightest in the constellation Canis Major, the Greater Dog.  This pattern and Canis Minor are Orion’s hunting dogs. I can visualize a certain comic strip character sitting atop a doghouse, facing westward, wearing aviator’s glasses, pilot’s cap, and a scarf.

Dog Days have been attributed to the time of the year when Sirius rises with the sun.  Of course, it is coincidental that they occur at the same time.  Thousands of years ago, Sirius rose just before sunrise at the time the Nile River flooded in Egypt, attaching the name “Nile Star” to it.  The star could be used as a calendar to predict the rainy season at the river’s source.

Sirius is the 7th closest star system to our solar system.  It is less than 10 light years away.  Its blue-white intensity indicates that it is hotter than the sun – a yellow-white star – and shines with an intensity of about 20 suns.  Its actual stellar properties indicate its rather meek compared to the incredibly bright stars in Orion to its upper right and some of the nearby stars in the sky.

Wezen, shining at a brightness of over 60,000 suns, rivals the actual brightness of Rigel, Orion’s left knee is thought to be 2,000 light years away. 

Mirzam, the 49th brightest star in the night sky, is about 500 light years away and shines with the brightness of 6,000 suns.  Its name means “roarer,” which could be taken as the speaker or the announcer. Mirzam rises about 20 minutes before Sirius, announcing that the brightest star is not far behind.

Point a binocular at Sirius and move the star near the top of the field of view.  A star cluster, known as the Little Beehive Cluster and cataloged as Messier 41 (M41 on the chart), appears near the middle of the field.

Sirius and Canis Major are indicators that winter has set in at the mid-northern latitudes.

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