2022, March 15: Evening Lunar Occultation, Morning Planets

March 15, 2022: The moon occults a star in Leo after sunset.  Venus, Mars, and Saturn shine from the southeastern sky before sunrise.

2022, March 15: Venus, Mars, and Saturn are in the southeastern sky before sunrise.
Chart Caption – 2022, March 15: Venus, Mars, and Saturn are in the southeastern sky before sunrise.

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by Jeffrey L. Hunt

Chicago, Illinois:  Sunrise, 7:02 a.m. CDT; Sunset, 6:57 p.m. CDT.  Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.

During the next few days, daylight and night are equal.  Typically, we think that the two values are equal at the equinox that occurs in five days.  The equal night date is not precisely on the day of the equinox because of the definitions of sunrise and sunset as well as refraction of the sun when it is at the horizon.

Today daylight is 11 hours, 55 minutes long.  Tomorrow, daylight is two minutes short of twelve hours, while March 17 is one minute longer.  The changes are subtle and without fanfare.  By month’s end, daylight lasts 12 hours, 40 minutes.

Morning Sky

SUMMARY OF PLANETS IN 2022 MORNING SKY

 Venus shines brightly from the southeast before sunrise.  It outshines all other stars in the sky and competes with airplane lights.  At forty-five minutes before sunrise, look for it over 13° above the horizon.

Earth’s Twin planet is quickly stepping through Capricornus.  The starry background is not bright, unlike other backdrops along the ecliptic.  This morning, use a binocular to find it 4.5° to the lower left of Dabih and 6.0° to the lower left of Algedi.

Mars, moving slower in Capricornus than Venus, is 3.9° to the lower right of the brilliant planet and 6.1° below Dabih.  This trio fits into a binocular field.

Tomorrow Venus and Mars are at a close approach point.  On March 6, Venus moved past Mars in a wide conjunction for the last meeting of a triple conjunction that started last year.  Even though Venus is east of Mars and moving faster eastward, the two planets are still getting close together.  Venus is rapidly moving toward the ecliptic.  Its celestial latitude, angle above the ecliptic, decreased 1.0° since the conjunction.  After tomorrow’s close approach, Venus quickly steps away from Mars and heads toward Saturn, now 5.0° above the east-southeast horizon and 12.5° to the lower left of Venus.

A rare event occurs on March 28.  Venus, one day before its conjunction with Saturn, Mars and the Ringed Wonder fit into a circle 5.3° in diameter, easily fitting into the same binocular field.  The moon is nearby as well.  The three planets are not this close again until September 6, 2040. 

Each morning, note the changing alignment of Venus, Mars and Saturn.

Evening Sky

2022, March 15: The gibbous moon is in the eastern sky as night falls.
Chart Caption – 2022, March 15: The gibbous moon is in the eastern sky as night falls.

As night falls in the Chicago area, the bright gibbous moon is covering the star Eta Leonis, in the “Sickle of Leo.”  When the moon eclipses a bright star or planet, this is known as an occultation.

The moon, 94% illuminated, is nearly 40° up in the east as night falls.  The associated chart shows the scene at 45 minutes after sunset when it is covering the star.

2022, March 15: A binocular view of Eta Leonis reappearing after the lunar occultation.
Chart Caption – 2022, March 15: A binocular view of Eta Leonis reappearing after the lunar occultation.

While Earth rotates and the sky seems to spin toward the west, the lunar orb slowly moves eastward compared to the stars.  By 7:50 p.m. CDT in the Chicago area, approximately 50 minutes after sunset, Eta is clearly visible at the moon’s edge.  A binocular or a spotting scope can be used to see the star reappear.

Locations in eastern North America see the entire event when the moon approaches the star, covers it, and the star reappears.  For observers farther west, such as in California, the event occurs during the daytime.  The occultation is not visible from South America or Central America.

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