2022, March 14: Morning Star, Red Planet, Ringed Wonder, Evening Balancing Act

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March 14, 2022: Three bright planets, Venus, Mars, and Saturn, are in the morning sky. After sunset, Leo seems to balance the moon on its head.

Chart Caption – 2022, March 14: Three planets are in the southeastern sky before sunrise.

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by Jeffrey L. Hunt

Chicago, Illinois:  Sunrise, 7:04 a.m. CDT; Sunset, 6:56 p.m. CDT.  Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.

Morning Sky

SUMMARY OF PLANETS IN 2022 MORNING SKY

 Venus  is “that bright star” in the southeast before sunrise. It is quickly stepping eastward in western Capricornus, near the stars Dabih and Algedi. It is noticeably to the left (east) of the stellar pair.  This morning, the planet is 3.8° to the lower left of Dabih and 5.3° to the lower left of Algedi.  This trio easily fits into a binocular field of view.

Mars, moving slower in Capricornus than Venus, is 3.9° to the lower right of the Morning Star.  In two mornings, they are slightly closer than this morning, at a close approach.  It is not a conjunction because Venus is already east of Mars and the two do not pass again until February 22, 2024.

Saturn is entering the morning sky.  It is nearly 5° above the east-southeast horizon, 13.3° to the lower left of Venus.  Venus and Mars are racing toward the slower-moving Saturn. On March 29, Venus, Mars, and Saturn bunch together in a circle that is 5.3° across.  Such gatherings are rare and do not occur with these three planets again until September 6, 2040.

Jupiter is slowly entering the sky after its solar conjunction over a week ago.  It rises during bright twilight, over an hour after Saturn and less than 10 minutes before sunup. 

Mercury is moving toward its superior conjunction with the sun during early April and then its best evening appearance of the year.

Evening Sky

Chart Caption – 2022, March 14: Leo seems to balance the moon on its head after sunset.

As night falls, the bright moon, nearly 90% illuminated, is about halfway up in the eastern sky.  It appears that Leo is balancing the moon on its head.

Leo is a westward-facing lion, rising in the eastern sky after sundown.  A backwards question mark, made of a half dozen stars and known as the “Sickle of Leo,” marks the head of the majestic Lion. In this case, the sickle refers to a farmer’s tool for harvesting grain.

Regulus, meaning “the prince,” is at the bottom of the sickle.  It is a bright blue star that is nearly 80 light years away.  At this distance it is the fifteenth brightest star visible from the mid-northern latitudes.  It shines with a brightness of about 400 suns.

Regulus is the closest of the bright stars to the ecliptic.  Routinely, the planets appear close to it.  This year, Mercury passes by on August 3rd and Venus passes on September 5th , while the moon is nearby each month.  This morning, the moon is 15.1° above the star.

The haunches of Leo are marked by a triangle, but the Lion’s tail – Denebola – is not displayed in the associated chart because it appears outside the frame for the scale used in the diagrams.

Tomorrow from eastern North America, the moon covers Eta Leonis, in the handle of the sickle as the sky darkens.  From the Chicago region, the star begins to reappear at 7:45 p.m. CDT.  For other locations, see this link for more information about the lunar occultation, http://www.lunar-occultations.com/iota/bstar/0316zc1484.htm

The Full moon occurs on March 18 at 2:18 a.m. CDT.

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