February 27, 2022: Venus, Mars, and the lunar crescent bunch together for a predawn conjunction. Cassiopeia, the Queen, and other characters from mythology are in the northwest after sunset.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 6:29 a.m. CST; Sunset, 5:39 p.m. CST. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.
Morning Star Venus, Mars, and the crescent moon are bunched together this morning before sunrise. At 45 minutes before sunrise, brilliant Venus is over 15° above the southeast horizon. The crescent moon, 13% illuminated, is 9.6° to the lower right of Venus.
The lunar crescent is only about 6° above the horizon. Find a clear view toward the southeast. The moon is too far away from Venus to fit both into the same binocular field of view.
Dimmer Mars is nearly midway from Venus to the moon. It is 5.2° to the lower right of Venus and 4.6° to the upper left of the lunar slice. Either Mars and the moon fit into a binocular field or the two planets appear in the field of view.
Venus and Mars are racing eastward along the plane of the solar system. Venus has been picking up speed since it stopped retrograding on January 30. About a week later, Mars passed Venus in a wide conjunction. During the month, Venus picked up speed, and it is now overtaking the Red Planet. Venus passes Mars for the third time in a triple conjunction series on March 6.
Cassiopeia, the Queen, is another circumpolar constellation, one that never sets. During the winter months, she starts the evening in the northwest. The pattern resembles a “W” or an “M” depending on the time of night it is viewed.
In mythology, Cassiopeia’s vanity initiated the events leading to the Perseus, Andromeda, Medusa story. Those characters are nearby in the sky.
The bright stars of the Queen are Schedar – “the breast,” Caph – “the stained hand,” and Ruchbah – “the knee of the lady of the chair.”
The stars shine from the plane of the galaxy. On clear, moonless nights away from city and suburban outdoor lights, that plane, the Milky Way, can be seen arching across the sky.
Above Cassiopeia and formally part of Perseus, two open star clusters are visible. They are slightly brighter than the threshold of our eyes, making them difficult to see from lighted areas. The view is accented by a binocular. They spill out of the view of a telescope’s eyepiece. The clusters happen to be along the same line of sight and far apart in space.
Their name is commonly known as the “Double Cluster,” although the name seems to have modern origins.
Two other stars of Perseus are visible, Mirfak and Algol. Mirfak – “the elbow of the Pleiades” – is the brightest of the constellation.
Algol, “the demon’s head,” represents the severed head of the Medusa that Perseus is holding in astronomical art. The star varies in brightness about every three days from a second star that blocks the light of the main star in the system. At brightest, it is about the same as those in the Big Dipper, falling to the brightness of the stars in the Pleiades at its dimmest.
Andromeda is nearby, with its Great Galaxy, appearing to Andromeda’s lower left. It is frequently known as Messier 31 or M31.
Step outside on the next clear evening and look for the Queen and the nearby treasures during the early evening hours of winter at the mid-northern latitudes.
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