May 22, 2022: The moon is near Saturn in the southeast before sunup. During the next few mornings watch it skip past Mars, Jupiter, Saturn. After nightfall, spot star clusters with a binocular.
by Jeffrey L. Hunt
Chicago, Illinois: Sunrise, 5:24 a.m. CDT; Sunset, 8:11 p.m. CDT. Check local sources for sunrise and sunset times for your location.
The moon is passing the morning planets in the eastern sky during morning twilight during the next few mornings. Step outside 45 minutes before sunrise. The moon approaching its morning half phase is over 20° above the southeastern horizon. The moon reaches its Last Quarter phase this afternoon after moonset in most of North America.
Saturn is 5.3° to the upper right of the lunar orb. The Ringed Wonder is the fourth brightest morning planet.
The quartet is strung along the eastern sky. After spotting the moon and Saturn, brilliant Venus and Jupiter catch your eye. The Morning Star is about 9° up in the east. The Jovian Giant is 20.6° to the upper right of Venus.
Look carefully for Mars, 4.0° to the upper right of Jupiter. The Red Planet is marching toward a conjunction with the solar system’s largest planet in a week. Each morning Mars closes in on Jupiter. They are easily visible in the same binocular field of view.
Venus is quickly stepping away from the other three planets. This morning the Venus – Saturn gap is 57.6°. Tomorrow, the moon is between Mars and Saturn, but below an imaginary line that connects them.
Notice Fomalhaut, above the southeastern horizon to the lower left of the moon and Saturn. Also turn your attention toward the north-northeast horizon, Capella – meaning “the little she-goat” – is there. The star is visible in the evening sky, in the northwest as night falls, and it is making its first morning appearance.
The star dips below the horizon for a short period before it rises. It is far enough north that at this season it can be seen after sunset and before sunrise. Unlike the Big Dipper, that never sets from mid-northern latitudes, Capella sets for a short time before rising again. For sky watchers living north of the 46th parallel, the star is circumpolar.
Capella is the fourth brightest star visible from the mid-northern latitudes and the third brightest in the northern half of the sky, meaning above the celestial equator – the extension of Earth’s equator in the sky. Sirius is visible from mid-northern latitudes, but it is south of the celestial equator.
Capella, part of the constellation Auriga, has a color that is sunlike. It is over 40 light years away and it is about 100 times brighter than our central star.
Around two hours after sunset, step outside and look to the western sky. The sky seems sparse without the bright stars of winter gleaming on the celestial dome.
In yesterday’s article, two star clusters, the Beehive and Coma clusters, were identified. The Beehive cluster is among the stars of Cancer while the Coma cluster is part of Coma Berenices.
Cancer is the area between the Gemini Twins, Castor and Pollux, and the Sickle of Leo. If you point your binocular toward that region the Beehive is easily found. For those who do not suffer from the perpetual twilight of outdoor lighting, the cluster is visible without optical assistance.
The Beehive, also known as the Praesepe or Manger, has two other stars in the binocular field – Asellus Borealis (meaning northern donkey) and Asellus Australis (meaning southern donkey).
Once the Beehive is centered in the binocular field, move the binocular slightly so that the southern donkey is on the upper right of the field of view. Acubens – “the southern claw of the crab” – appears on the left side of the field. This is a tight fit of the two stars.
The star cluster, Messier 67 (M67), is 1.8° to the lower right of Acubens. The cluster has over 150 stars in it. It is about 2,000 light years away, over four times the distance of the Beehive cluster. M67 looks smaller and dimmer than the Beehive.
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