February 22, 2022: The moon covers Zubenelgenubi before sunrise. Venus and Mars are in the southeast before sunup. Canis Minor is in the southern sky during early evening hours.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 6:36 a.m. CST; Sunset, 5:33 p.m. CST. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.
At forty-five minutes before sunrise, the bright moon – 66% illuminated – is about one-third of the way up in the south in the south-southwest. The star Zubenelgenubi – “the southern claw” – is immediately to the upper left of the lunar orb.
The moon is about to cover the star for a short period of time. This is known as an occultation. The timing of such events can be used to refine the equations that predict the moon’s orbital path, including the times of eclipses, moon phases, and future occultations.
In the Chicago area, the moon begins to cover the star at 6 a.m. CST. Zubenelgenubi begins to reappear at 6:25 a.m. CST, about 10 minutes before sunrise. Observers farther west see the event in a darker sky. Use a binocular or spotting scope to watch the star disappear and then reappear from the edge of the moon that has nighttime. The event is visible from across a large swath of North America and Central America. See this source for more information for your location.
Brilliant Venus and Mars continue their eastward dance in the southeastern sky before sunrise. Currently Mars is marching eastward faster than Venus, but that is about to change. After its retrograde ended on January 30, Venus is slowly picking up speed. On March 6, Venus passes Mars for the second in a series of three conjunctions – a triple conjunction.
During the month, Mars passed three named stars in Sagittarius, Kaus Borealis, Nunki, and Albaldah. It continues its eastward trek.
This morning Venus is easy to locate over 15° up in the southeast at forty-five minutes before sunup. No other star is as bright as this planet. Dimmer Mars is 5.7° to the lower right of Venus. Both easily fit into a binocular field.
Jupiter and Saturn continue to be in transition from evening sky to morning sky. Jupiter is setting during bright twilight, 38 minutes after sunset. It passes behind the sun next month. Saturn, at its solar conjunction on February 4, is climbing into the morning sky. It is dimmer and takes longer to show in morning twilight. This morning it rises only 34 minutes before the sun.
Canis Minor, Orion’s small hunting dog, is to the upper left of Sirius and lower left of Betelgeuse. The constellation is relatively small, largely consisting of two bright stars, Procyon and Gomeisa.
Procyon’s name means “before the dog.” From the mid-northern latitudes, it rises about 25 minutes before the Dog Star, Sirius.
For those interested in locating Sirius at its helical rising next summer, this is the time to look at the scale of the sky with Sirius, Procyon, and Betelgeuse, the Winter Triangle.
During August mornings at the time of Sirius’ heliacal rising, Betelgeuse and Procyon are visible before Sirius hits its annual mark. Each side of the triangle is over 25° long. To see this scale in a darker sky, helps locate the triangle before sunrise during August. Once seeing Procyon and Betelgeuse in the predawn sky and knowing the scale, the location of Sirius above the horizon can be estimated easily.
At a distance of about 12 light years, Procyon is the 6th brightest star visible at mid-northern latitudes, following Sirius, Arcturus, Vega, Capella, and Rigel. Being so close, Procyon is about 10 times brighter than the sun. That’s a bright star, but diminished by the stellar properties in the constellations Orion and Canis Major.
The other bright star in the constellation is Gomeisa – “the weeping or blear-eyed one.” This star is about 170 light years away and about 100 times brighter than our sun, a significant luminescence but underwhelming by other nearby values.
Dress warmly, take a binocular, and explore the stars of winter that are in the south.
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