Minnesota Starwatch 2022

Minnesota Starwatch by Deane Morrison, designed to inform the broadest possible community of the appearance of the nightly sky and current activities in newspapers, continues to be published in several newspapers throughout the state.

Contact:
Deane Morrison
University Relations
(612) 624-2346
morri029@umn.edu

FEBRUARY

All month long, the knot of bright winter constellations occupies center stage in the south during the prime early evening viewing hours. This grouping boasts five stars that rank among the top ten brightest in the night sky: Sirius (No. 1), Capella (No. 6), Rigel (No. 7), Procyon (No. 8) and Betelgeuse (No. 10). 

At nightfall Sirius shines from Canis Major, the big dog, while above and slightly to the east twinkles Procyon, in Canis Minor, the little dog. Both are near neighbors of the sun, so no wonder they appear so bright. Sitting atop the stellar panoply, Capella, in Auriga, the charioteer, is four times more distant than either Sirius or Procyon. But the two stars in Orion—Betelgeuse, at his right shoulder, and Rigel, at his left foot—hold their own against the others despite being more than 10 times farther away than even Capella.

A waxing moon passes between the horns of Taurus, the bull, on the night of the 10th and between the bodies of the Gemini twins on the night of the 12th. On the 13th, the “head” stars of the twins—Pollux (the brighter) and Castor—form a nearly straight line with the moon. February’s full moon shines from the jaws of Leo, the lion, the night of the 15th.  

In the morning sky, brilliant Venus, in the southeast, spends much of the month climbing toward much dimmer Mars. A waning moon passes Spica, the brightest star in Virgo, the maiden, between the 20th and 21st and visits Antares, the heart of Scorpius, on the 24th. On the 27th, Venus, Mars and an old crescent moon stack up with Mars in the middle. To see all three, look to the southeast just as dawn starts to break. 

On Groundhog Day we get a hint of spring. The day was first celebrated as the astronomically based Celtic holiday Imbolc, or lamb’s milk, and heralded the start of the lambing season. It was one of four cross-quarter days falling midway between a solstice and an equinox.

JANUARY

Venus, Mars and Moon facing southeast, 75 minutes before sunrise on January 29th

In January Venus emerges from its short trip between Earth and the sun to become a “morning star.” It begins a rapid climb over the southeastern horizon in mid-month, making its way toward much dimmer Mars. Try looking just before the sky starts to lighten on the 29th. Venus will be to the upper left of a thin waning moon and Mars will be between them, but closer to the moon.

The bright star off to the upper right of this assemblage is Antares, the heart of Scorpius. Its name means “rival of Mars,” and for the time being it outshines its planetary competitor. 

New Year’s Day sees brilliant Jupiter and dimmer Saturn lingering in the southwest at nightfall. The two planets form a nearly equilateral triangle with Fomalhaut, the brightest star in Piscis Austrinus, the southern fish.  

But the triangle breaks in mid-month, when Saturn gets lost in the sunset. The best evening to see the three objects may be Tuesday, the 4th, when a young moon shines to Saturn’s left. Also on that day, Earth reaches perihelion, its closest approach to the sun in its orbit, and achieves its highest orbital speed—which does nothing to help Jupiter resist being left behind in the sunset. By month’s end, the king of planets will be poised to follow Saturn over the horizon.

The first full moon of 2022 rises almost perfectly round before sunset on Monday, the 17th. Within an hour after nightfall, the bright star Procyon, in Canis Minor, the little dog, and radiant Sirius, in Canis Major, the large dog, come out and form a nearly straight line with the moon.  

The bright winter stars will all be up in the east by mid-evening on January 1, earlier as the days go by. Brilliant Capella caps the group from its perch in the constellation Auriga, the charioteer, while Siriusthe brightest star in the night skyholds the “anchor” position.