Jupiter, the 2nd-brightest planet, is the only visible evening planet in late January and early February. You’ll find it in the sunset direction, still shining brightly although now very near the sunset glare. By mid-February, you’ll still spot Jupiter, just above the sunset horizon, in very bright twilight, shortly after the sun goes down. In the days and weeks after that, the giant planet becomes lost in the sunset glare.
Before it disappears, on the evening of February 2, be sure to look outside to catch the young moon – a waxing crescent – hanging near Jupiter in the twilight sky.
Jupiter will reach its superior conjunction (when it’s most directly behind the sun as seen from Earth) on March 5, 2022.
Saturn will reach superior conjunction on February 4. That’s when it and the sun have the same right ascension on our sky’s dome. In other words, in February, the sun and Saturn are traveling together across the sky during the day. Why? Because the planet Saturn is traveling behind the sun as seen from the planet Earth. Saturn has been gone from our evening sky since about mid-January. We won’t see it again until it returns to the dawn sky in March.
By April 2022 mornings, we’ll see both Saturn and Jupiter in the east before dawn, beginning their 2022 cycle of visibility in our sky. This cycle for these outer planets, by the way, is driven mostly by the length of Earth’s year-long orbit around the sun.
In 2022, Saturn will reach its opposition – when Earth passes between it and the sun – on August 14. Jupiter’s opposition will come on September 26.
Venus After having moved between Earth and the sun on January 9, Venus now shines brilliantly in our morning sky as dawn’s light begins to break. It will be at its brightest for all of 2022 on the mornings around February 8, an event called greatest brilliancy by astronomers. Don’t miss Venus before sunup on these late January/early February mornings. What a beautiful, blazing “morning star” it is.
On January 29, a thin crescent moon – what astronomers call an old moon – will join the scene, floating near Venus in the eastern predawn sky. Gorgeous!
On these late January mornings, and throughout February, Venus appears as a very thin crescent world. In other words, its “day” side is facing mostly away from us now. Aim a pair of well-focused binoculars toward Venus. You’ll see the crescent always points toward the sun, i.e., the tips of its crescent – its “horns” – point directly away from the sun.
Throughout February, the crescent Venus will wax larger. Venus will be showing us more of its lighted face as this Earth-sized planet swings farther to the west of the sun, before reaching its greatest western elongation on March 20.
Because Venus is so bright in late January and early February, it’s a great time to try to spot it in the daytime. Simply follow the planet as sunrise nears, then keep an eye on it after the sun pokes above the horizon. (Be sure not to look at the sun!) To make this easier, position yourself so that Venus is placed just above a foreground object such as a tree or utility pole.
Mercury makes a brief appearance for Northern Hemisphere skywatchers, low in the east before sunrise, beginning in the second week of February. On February 16, 2022, Mercury reaches what astronomers call greatest western elongation, at which it lies at its greatest angular distance from the sun as viewed from our earthly vantage point. After February 16, the bright morning twilight quickly overpowers Mercury’s diminishing light. It won’t be easily found from northerly latitudes in late February.
Observers in the Southern Hemisphere, on the other hand, will have a great display of Mercury throughout February. The little planet will be well above the sunrise horizon before sunup, in darker twilight. So, from the Southern Hemisphere, Mercury will be easier to spot. After February 21, Mercury shines very low, but it still should be visible for those observers who have a clear southeastern horizon. On the final morning of the month, the thin crescent moon – what astronomers call an “old” moon – will lie immediately above Mercury, and Saturn will be below it. This will be an enchanting scene to view, especially through binoculars!
Mars, like Saturn, was traveling behind the sun from Earth. By late December 2021, Mars was just visible, with difficulty, in the direction of sunrise, before the sun came up. And throughout January, it has been the same. Mars has been seen very low in the east before sunrise, but only with some difficulty. Most people never saw it at all – haven’t seen it yet – while gazing at blazing Venus in the same region of the sky.
But Mars grows slowly in brightness throughout February, as it slowly, very slowly, climbs out of the sunrise. It is ever thus for Mars when it begins a new cycle of visibility. Mars spends February 2022 perched directly south of brilliant Venus.
On January 29, the old moon will join Venus and Mars, forming an intriguing celestial line-up: brilliant Venus, far-dimmer Mars and the glowing crescent moon. Then wait another month for the moon to come around again. Mars will be between Venus and the pretty crescent moon on the morning of February 27.
These early-morning sightings – so near the sun – can be tricky. If you look too early, Mars won’t have risen yet. If you look too late, bright twilight will drown Mars from view.
Don’t let Mars fool you. Despite its inconspicuousness now, it’ll grow brighter – and brighter – over the first 11 months of 2022. In other words, for most of the year. It’ll be brightest as Earth passes between Mars and the sun in December 2022.
The moon’s monthly journey
Throughout the month, the moon, with its changing phases, passes near planets and stars, creating interesting, even captivating scenes in the sky.
January 24: the almost third quarter moon slides north of Spica, the brightest star in Virgo.
“I can sometimes see the moon in the daytime” was a cosmic revelation that John Jardine Goss first discovered through personal observations when he was 6 years old. It shook his young concept of the universe and launched his interest in astronomy and stargazing, a fascination he still holds today. John is past president of the Astronomical League, the largest U.S. federation of astronomical societies, with over 20,000 members. He's earned the title of Master Observer and has authored the celestial observing guides Exploring the Starry Realm and Carpe Lunam. John also writes a monthly stargazing column, Roanoke Skies, for the Roanoke Times, and a bimonthly column, Skywatch, for Blue Ridge Country magazine. He has contributed to Sky and Telescope magazine, the IDA Nightscape, the Astronomical League’s Reflector magazine, and the RASC Observer’s Handbook.
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and founded EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.
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