February 25, 2022: The crescent moon joins Morning Star Venus and Mars before sunrise. During the evening the Big Dipper is in the northeast.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 6:32 a.m. CST; Sunset, 5:36 p.m. CST. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.
Brilliant Venus and dimmer Mars are in the southeast before sunrise. Venus is “that bright star,” nearly 16° above the horizon. The Red Planet is 5.5° to the lower right of the Morning Star. An optical assist from a binocular may help in initially finding Mars.
Venus and Mars are in an eastward race. Venus normally seems to move faster compared to the starry background compared to Mars. When Earth’s Twin raced into the morning sky, it was moving westward compared to the stars. It appeared to stop moving westward on January 30.
As it picked up speed moving eastward, Mars moved passed Venus for the second conjunction of a triple conjunction series. As the month is closing, Venus is moving eastward slightly faster than Mars. The Morning Star passes the Red Planet again on March 6 for the third conjunction. After this conjunction, Venus quickly steps away from Mars, passing Saturn and then Jupiter as they enter the eastern morning sky,
The crescent moon, 33% illuminated, enters the scene this morning. It is slightly higher than Venus in the south-southeast and over 26° to the upper right of brilliant planet.
During the next two mornings, watch the moon appear closer to the morning planet duo.
With Jupiter, Saturn, and Mercury in the sun’s glare, the evening sky is without any bright planets.
The bright stars of winter are in the south, with the flagship constellation, Orion, about halfway up in the sky.
At this season, the Big Dipper stands on its handle in the northeastern sky. This name is likely the most famous star pattern known in North America.
Seven stars make this shape that is part of the larger formal constellation Ursa Major, the Greater Bear.
Two stars, Dubhe and Merak, in the bowl of the dipper are known as the “Pointer Stars.” Starting at Merak and extending an imaginary line through Dubhe, the line roughly points to Polaris, the North Star, the 48th brightest star in the sky. From the mid-northern latitudes, it is about halfway up in the north.
Starting at Dubhe and going through Merak takes us to Leo that is low in the eastern sky at this hour.
Mizar is at the bend of the dipper’s handle. A dimmer star, Alcor, is nearby. It is thought to have been a test of the acuity of one’s eyes. If you can see the dimmer star next to the brighter one, then your eyesight is thought to be excellent. Certainly, do not substitute that observation for a medical opinion.
The curve of the handle, formed by Megrez, Mizar, and Alkaid, makes an arc, that when followed, reaches the star Arcturus – “the bear-guard.” During late February, the star rises about the horizon about 3.5 hours after sundown.
The Big Dipper is known as circumpolar for northern regions. The stars never set and they are found in the northern sky every night throughout the year.
For our southern hemisphere readers, only parts of the dipper are visible. From Australia and similar southern latitudes, Alkaid is only about 7° above the northern horizon early in the morning. The other six stars do not appear in the sky. The dipper just skirts the northern horizon and falls beneath it from latitudes similar to Porto Alegre, Brazil. From regions farther north, the dipper is higher in the sky.
The southern latitudes enjoy many stars that we mid-northerners cannot see, such as Canopus, Alpha Centauri, the Southern Cross, and others! Hope you are having a great summer of observing the sky there!
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