Skywatcher's Guide: February and March 2022

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Stars and Constellations

In February, the center of the Milky Way is well below the horizon, but there is still a good portion of our galaxy we can see streaking high across the sky. The fall sky is still prominent in the west.  The "W" of Cassiopeia is high in the northwest. In the absence of the Big Dipper (part of our spring sky) Cassiopeia can be used to locate the north star: The top (open side) of the "W" faces to the north, so in that direction look for a star about the same brightness as the main stars in Casssiopeia, and that will most likely be Polaris.  The Big Dipper is beginning to come up again, but it is likely to be hidden behind trees and mountains along the horizon.  Next, the Great Square of Pegasus is getting low in the west.  Andromeda is just above that, with Perseus even higher, nearly in the middle of the sky.  Finally, the winter sky is now getting very high in the east.  Taurus the bull with the bright star Aldebaran is very high (near Perseus) along with the Pleiades (aka the seven sisters or Subaru) star cluster.  Auriga the charioteer with the bright star Capella is very high as well, slightly more to the northeast.  Gemini the twins is just below that in the east, and Canis Minor (the little dog) with the bright star Procyon is just below.  Orion the hunter is up in the southeast, with his easily recognizable belt, and Canis Major (the big dog) is just below.

In March, the winter portion of the Milky Way continues to streak across the sky.  The fall constellations are now getting low in the west, with Pegasus now partly below the horizon.  The winter constellations are now in the middle of the sky, and some of the spring constellations are beginning to come up.  Leo the lion is just above the horizon in the east, and the Big Dipper (Ursa Major) is now up in the northeast.

Interesting Stars Visible in February and March

Name / Designation Apparent Magnitude
(lower = brighter)
Distance
(light-years)
Notes
Sirius -1.44 8.6  
Arcturus -0.05 36.7  
Capella 0.08 42  
Rigel 0.18 770  
Procyon 0.4 11  
Betelgeuse 0.45 427  
Aldeberan 0.87 65  
Spica 0.98 262  
Pollux 1.16 38  
Markab 1.25 140  
Regulus 1.36 77 means "Little King"
Castor 1.58 52  
Polaris 1.97 431  
Alpheratz or Sirrah 2.07 97  
Mirach 2.07 199  
Algol 2.09 93 variable star
Denebola 2.14 36.2  
Almak 2.1 / 5.0 & 6.3 355  triple star system w/ 64 yr orbit
Eta Cassiopeiae 3.5 / 7.4 19 480 yr orbit

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Solar System

Mercury will be visible in the morning sky before sunrise starting in early February and remain visible until mid-March.

Venus is also visible before sunrise, getting higher each morning until its peak in mid-March.

Mars is moving very close to Venus during this time period, also visible in the morning sky..

Jupiter can still be spotted after sunset in early February, but will be lost in the Sun's glare later in the month.  It will start to reemerge in the morning sky in late March.

Saturn begins to emerge in the morning sky in late February, getting higher and higher each day.

*Note that all five naked-eye planets will be in the morning sky in March!  It will be difficult, though not impossible, to spot them all at the same time.  Let me know if you accomplish this feat!  You'll have another chance to spot them all in June, although they'll be more spread out.

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Calendar of Night Sky Events

Date Event
02/04/22 Saturn at conjunction. — Passing behind the Sun.
02/08/22 First Quarter Moon.
02/16/22 Full Moon.
02/16/22 Mercury at greatest western elongation. — Visible in the morning sky.
02/23/22 Last Quarter Moon.
03/02/22 Appulse of Mercury and Saturn. — Separated by 0.7°.
03/02/22 New Moon.
03/05/22 Jupiter at conjunction. — Passing behind the Sun.
03/10/22 First Quarter Moon.
03/13/22 Neptune at conjunction. — Passing behind the Sun.
03/15/22 Appulse of Venus and Mars. — Separated by 3.9°.
03/18/22 Full Moon.
03/20/22 Venus at greatest western elongation. — Visible in the morning sky.
03/20/22 Earth at northward equinox. — Beginning of our Spring.
03/20/22 Appulse of Mercury and Jupiter. — Separated by 1.2°.
03/23/22 Appulse of Mercury and Neptune. — Separated by 0.9°.
03/24/22 Last Quarter Moon.
03/28/22 Appulse of Venus and Saturn. — Separated by 2.1°.
03/31/22 New Moon.

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Deep Sky

The winter Milky Way is now prominent in the sky.  There are many spectacular deep sky objects we can see now.  Starting with open clusters, we first have the Pleiades (Seven Sisters, M45) nearly in the middle of the sky.  Next to that, the Hyades cluster (C41) makes up the face of Taurus the bull.  Also nearby, the constellation of Auriga contains M36, M37, and M38, which are visible with binoculars.  We also have Perseus's Double Cluster (C14) still fairly high in the northwest, and the Beehive (Praesepe, M44) up in the east.

This is not a good time of year to see globular clusters, as most of them are concentrated in the summer sky.  The brightest one we can see now is M79 below Orion in Lepus the hare, but it is nearly 8th magnitude.

For nebulae, we have the spectacular Orion Nebula (M42) now prominent in the south. This is the closest star-forming region to our solar system.  We also have some good planetary nebulae, which come from dying stars.  The Blue Snowball (C22) in Andromeda is towards the west, the Eskimo (C39) in Gemini is high in the east, and the Owl (M97) in Ursa Major is low in the northeast.

And now the galaxies:  Our neighbor the Andromeda Galaxy (M31) is now heading towards the west and is visible on dark nights with the naked eye.  Also nearby is the Triangulum Galaxy (M33), visible with binoculars.  In Ursa Major to the northeast we have Bode's Galaxy (M81) and the Cigar Galaxy (M82), close enough to be seen together in a low-power telescope.

Interesting Deep Sky Objects to Observe during February and March (during observatory hours)

Designation Name Apparent Magnitude Apparent Size Distance
(light-years)
Type
Messier 45 Pleiades 1.6 110' 440 open cluster
Messier 31 Andromeda Galaxy 3.4 3° x 1° 2,900,000 spiral galaxy
Messier 44 Beehive Cluster 3.7 95' 577 open cluster
Messier 42 Orion Nebula 4 85' x 60' 1400-1600 diffuse nebula
Messier 33 Triangulum Galaxy 5.7 67' x 42' 3,000,000 spiral galaxy
Messier 3 (in Canes Venatici) 6.2 18' 34,000 globular cluster
Messier 81 Bode's Galaxy 8.5 21' 1,200,000 spiral galaxy
NGC 3242 Ghost of Jupiter 8.6 25" 1400 planetary nebula
Messier 82 Cigar Galaxy 9.5 14' 1,200,000 galaxy

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Frequently Asked Questions

What's happening in space this year?

There are a lot of spacecraft launches scheduled for 2022.  There are some new nations and even private companies that are going beyond Earth orbit for the first time.

The Moon is getting a lot of attention this year.  First, NASA has two lunar missions scheduled for March, CAPSTONE and Artemis 1.  Private company Intuitive Machines also plans to send two landers to the Moon in 2022, one in the first quarter and one in the last.  In April Japan will launch lunar lander SLIM.  In mid-2022 private company Astrobotic plans to send their lander Peregrine to the Moon, and Russia will do the same with their Luna 25 lander in July.  In August, South Korea will launch its first lunar orbiter KPLO.  India plans to send its Chandrayaan-3 lander to the Moon in the third quarter.  In October Japan is sending their Hakuto-R lander to the Moon, carrying with it the UAE's Rashid rover.  Finally, Israeli company Helios is talking about launching a lunar lander possibly before the end of the year, but details are still being worked out

Mars is getting a little love this year as well.  The joint European/Russian ExoMars 2022 mission carrying the Rosalind Franklin rover is scheduled to be launched in September (to arrive in 2023)  And Polish company SatRev is planning to launch a cubesat to the red planet sometime late in the year.

A couple of asteroid missions are scheduled to launch this year as well:  NASA's Psyche (set to orbit the asteroid by the same name in 2026) and Janus (a pair of spacecraft that will fly by two different as-yet-unnamed double asteroids in 2026).  These two missions will launch on the same rocket in August (five asteroids targeted in one launch!)

There are also a couple observatories being launched in 2022.  First is China's ASO-S solar observatory planned to launch in the first half of the year.  Launching piggyback on SLIM (mentioned above) is XRISM, a Japanese X-ray telescope.  India's Aditya-L1 is another solar observatory scheduled to launch in the third quarter.  And finally, China plans to launch its Einstein X-Ray telescope in the last quarter.

For natural phenomena, there are a few fun things to look for this year that you should be able to see from your back yard.  There are two lunar eclipses visible from Tucson this year, one in May and one in November.  There are also a few good meteor showers:  The Quadrantids in January (sorry for the late notice), the Eta Aquariids in May and the Delta Aquariids in July, and finally the Orionids in October.  There is also a Mars opposition in December, which we only get to see every other year or so.

Finally, there are a few special anniversaries I'd like to mention.  Happy 25th anniversary to Sojourner, the first successful rover on another planet (Mars).  And celebrating their 50th anniversaries are the Apollo 16 and 17 moon landings, as well as Venera 8, the first fully successful lander on another planet (Venus).

If you have any questions you'd like me to answer in the next issue of SWG, please let me know.  I'm also happy to take suggestions or comments, and also pictures if you'd like to send them.  Happy viewing!

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Date of publication:
2022