This morning I took the chance to image the close pairing of Mercury and the thin waning crescent Moon.
Mercury an inner or inferior planets like Venus, always appear close to the sun in the sky due to their low elongation (angular separation from the sun as (angular separation from the sun as viewed from earth), hence it’s always interesting to spot this tiny elusive planet near other brighter objects such as the moon.
Neither Mercury or Venus ever appears very far from the sun and consequently never far above the horizon (except Venus at maximum elongation). Both can only appear in the west in the evening and in the east in the morning and only for a short amount of time.
Inferior planet elongation. Image credit: wapi.isu.edu
In the case of Mercury, take note that it will always be located in the sky no more than 28 degrees from the Sun.
After checking Stellarium, I prepared my trusty point-and-shoot camera and tripod and went outside before 4:00 AM. A view of Scorpius in the southwest greeted me as I set up.
The eastern horizon was fortunately clear that time. In just a little while, a thin golden arc of light began to appear above the horizon. I took my 2-inch Galileoscope out and pointed at the moon.
Thin crescent Moon rising at around 4 AM
It didn’t take long before the twilight began to creep out and push the darkness away. The sky turned blue and soon I noticed the earthshine, the ghostly illumination of the lunar dark side.
Mercury should be located only a few degrees away from the moon. I searched the area just below the lower limb of the moon where this planet was suppose to lie and found its faint shine.
It was barely visible in the images fo it lies above the glow of the rising Sun so I used the dodge tool in Photoshop during the post-editing to make it more visible.
After a few minutes of imaging, the light from the two objects were eventually washed out in the solar glow.
I was really happy that once again, one of my images was featured in the Amateur Astronomy Picture of the Day (AAPOD) website last December 9, 2011. It’s an image featuring the planets Venus and Mercury along with the thin Moon during a nice celestial grouping at dusk last October 28.
It also got included in an article posted in EarthSky.org. Deborah Byrd, founder and president of EarthSky sent me message through Facebook to ask permission to repost my image.
Moreover, another surprising news came in as I received a notification that the same image has won, along with another image of mine, in the first round of voting in the 2011 International Observe the Moon Night (InOMN) Art Contest. 🙂 Yay!
Here are the links:
- AAPOD: Moon, Venus, and Mercury at Dusk
- EarthSky: Three amazing images of young moon you’ll see tonight
- 2011 InOMN Art Contest
It was really inspiring for an amateur like me who doesn’t even own a decent camera fit for sky photography to have my image featured in such astronomy websites. Thank you, AAPOD, EarthSky and InOMN!
I hope this would encourage more astronomy enthusiasts who are also into sky photography to submit their images and share their interest to many people who might also find a new fondness for the night sky.
Perhaps I should start saving more to have that camera which I’ve been eyeing on for so long. 😉 All things in God’s time.
To the stars!
Last October 28, 2011 I immediately headed to the SM Mall of Asia after our 2-day sem planning in Makati to take an image of this nice celestial grouping shortly after sunset. Sleeplessness failed to hinder me 😛
It features the thin Young Moon and the two inner planets, Venus and Mercury hanging near each other in the western sky at dusk.
I was really fortunate to have been able to catch this sky display just before darkness came. *Traffic in the city really sucks.*
Anyway, I hope the skies will always be this clear. 🙂
To the stars!
Tonight presents the expected peak of the annual Lyrid meteor shower, from late night Friday (April 22) until dawn Saturday (April 23). Look for meteors radiating from the constellation of Lyra after midnight.
Lyrid meteors are usually around magnitude +2, which is bright enough to be visible from most cities, but you’ll see more and enjoy them more if you leave the city for a dark place where the stars shine brighter. They often produce luminous trains of dust that can be observed for several seconds. Some Lyrids will be brighter, though, and the occassional “fireball” can cast shadows for a split second and leave behind glowing, smoky debris trails that last for minutes. Lyrid meteors disintegrate after hitting our atmosphere at a moderate speed of 29.8 miles per second.
In observing these meteors, the hour before dawn is usually best, except that a bright waning gibbous moon will be lighting the sky hiding most of the fainter meteors in its glare. This year, it is more favorable to watch late at night, during the dark hour before moonrise.
Tweet your data!
You can also share your data by Tweeting your postcode, your country (click here to find your country code) and, optionally, the meteor count along with the hashtag; #MeteorWatch (you are welcome to use GAM hastags as well – #GAM2011 #LyridsWatch)
The meteor data will appear in a map at MeteorWatch.org
While the best meteor-watching will be late night through daybreak, it’s well worth staying outside just before sunrise for a beautiful planetary alignment will be joining the Lyrids.
Venus is so bright in the eastern sky you can’t miss it, and below it Mercury, Mars and Jupiter could be found hanging a few degrees away from each other. If you have hazy skies or live in an urban area, you may need binoculars to see Mars and Jupiter.
This planetary grouping is visible from April 23 to May 30.
Enjoy the show! 🙂
For the northern hemisphere, March 22 (Note: This will be on March 23 for Philippine observers) marks Mercury’s best apparition in the evening sky for all of 2011. Mercury, the solar system’s innermost planet, never strays far from the sun. It never appears against an black midnight sky. But Mercury does appear in twilight, and today this innermost world reaches its greatest elongation east of the sun. Mercury swings to the end of its tether, at 19 degrees east of the sun. (For reference, your fist at an arm’s length to approximates 10 degrees of saky.)
To find this elusive planet, all you need is a clear evening and a viewing site with an good view down to the west horizon. Note the spot where the Sun sets, and then start scanning above (and slightly to the left) of there for Jupiter. Jupiter may be visible immediately if the air is very clear, but it will be more obvious 15 or 30 minutes later when the sky is darker (though Jupiter will also be lower).
Once you’ve found Jupiter, look for Mercury near it.
During March, Mercury will appear higher each evening until the 22nd, while Jupiter appears ever lower. So by the end of that period, Mercury may actually be the more obvious of the pair, despite the fact that it’s slowly fading. Starting around March 25th, Mercury plunges back toward the Sun, fades rapidly, and soon becomes hard to locate with the unaided eye.
As seen from the northern hemisphere, Mercury stands above the setting sun. It sets about one and one-half hours after the sun.
From the southern hemisphere, Mercury sits to the side of the setting sun. From there, this planet could be seen setting only about one-half hour after the sun.
That’s why Mercury sets so much later after sunset in the northern hemisphere than in the southern hemisphere during March of 2011. And it’s why this apparition of Mercury is the best evening apparition of this planet for all of 2011.
But why does Mercury stay out so much longer after sunset in the northern hemisphere? It’s because the ecliptic – the pathway of the planets – hits the horizon at a steep angle on early spring evenings. But in the southern hemisphere – where it’s early autumn – the ecliptic intersects the horizon at a narrow angle at evening time.
In a telescope, however, the later part of this apparition is most interesting, because that’s when Mercury grows into a long, thin, crescent. It’s 7″ wide and 50% illuminated on the 20th, 8″ wide and 30% illuminated on the 24th, and 9″ wide and 20% illuminated on the 28th.
In the northern hemisphere, Mercury should remain in good view until the end of the month. Look for Mercury to shine low in the west some 45 to 75 minutes after sunset.
A beautiful celestial display of Mercury and Venus with the thin waning crescent Moon brightened up the first two mornings of 2011. 🙂
Heavy smog caused by the cold, foggy weather and smoke generated by firecrackers and fireworks from the New Year’s Eve celebration blanketed our suburban place during the early morning of January 1st. Despite this, I was still lucky enough to have witnessed even just the nice pairing of Venus and the Moon in the Eastern sky, a few minutes before sunrise. Below are some of the images I took using my point-and-shoot Kodak C813 8.0 megapixel digital camera. Images were a bit blurry because I didn’t use a tripod.
A thin old Moon to the lower right of the planet Venus (1/1/11 at 5:47 AM) Mercury, the red star Antares and Saturn were difficult to see because of the smog. Click on the images to enlarge.
I also posted about this skygazing guide over my Twitter and Facebook account and I was happy that some of my fellow amateur astronomers and UP AstroSoc friends have also tried capturing images of this sky event over their own places. With their permission, I have included their pictures into this post. 🙂
Moon and Venus over Pasig City, Philippines – images by Elaine Tacubanza
Happy Hatsuhinode (初日の出) – the first sunrise of the year – by Kathleen Rosario (Parañaque City, Philippines)
Another friend, Bea Banzuela, did her skygazing during the predawn of January 2. Aside from taking landscape photographs of this event, she also used the 4.5″ Newtonian Telescope of UP AstroSoc to view the Moon and Venus over her place at Marikina City. Notice the lovely earthshine on the Moon in her pictures. 🙂
This event was indeed a nice celestial treat to start the year off. 😀
Another great opportunity to image the naked-eye planets, Venus and Mercury in the Eastern sky during predawn hours of the next few days. Both will be located close to red star, Antares of Scorpius.
Clear skies! 🙂
Here is another rare planetary grouping that is hard to miss! 🙂
As soon as I came across this website shared by Daniel Fischer and read about the proximity of Venus and Jupiter to each other on May 2011, I immediately ran my Stellarium software and simulated planetary positions throughout that month.
I got excited when I saw the nice planetary grouping of Jupiter, Venus, Mars and Mercury (you can add Uranus and Neptune to your count if you have binoculars or a small telescope) with the thin waning crescent Moon during the predawn hours of May 1 and 2.
All of these celestial objects will lie just within the constellation Pisces, separated by only a few degrees from each other. 😀 This is a good opportunity to spot all these planets close together during one occasion.
In order to observe this, you must have a clear eastern horizon because they will appear very low in the sky. Also, be sure to bring a pair of binoculars to help you see these objects better and wake up early to avoid the glare of the sun.
Venus is, as always, the brightest and most visible of the planets, and it can be your guide to spotting the others. About half way between Venus and the rising sun is Jupiter, the second brightest planet.
Mars will be a tiny speck just above Jupiter, and Mercury another tiny speck about half way between Jupiter and Venus. Uranus is slightly more than one binocular field above and to the right of Venus, and Neptune is much farther to the right, about 40 degrees away in Aquarius.
The planetary grouping is visible from April 23 to May 30.
Astrologers have always been fascinated by planetary alignments, and the doomsayers of 2012 have been prophesying a mystical alignment on Dec. 21, 2012. They view planetary alignments as foretellers of disasters. Modern amateur astronomers look forward to them as nothing more than grand photo ops. In fact, the modern tools of astronomers, such as planetarium softwares, show otherwise: absolutely no alignment at any time in 2012.
Happy observing 😀
The final mornings of 2010 (during Dec. 30 and 31) will feature the waning crescent moon with the planets Mercury, Venus and Saturn in the eastern sky before sunrise.
Depending on where you live worldwide, Venus and the moon will rise above the eastern horizon some 3 to 4 hours before sunrise, to light up the wee morning hours until daybreak. For Philippine observers, the screenshot from Stellarium above shows that the Moon – Venus separation is ~20 degrees on December 30, 2010. During this time, the moon will also be ~20 degrees below Saturn. The bright stars Spica in Virgo and Arcturus in Bootes could also be found within this celestial grouping.
Venus is very bright and easy to find. If you look at Venus with a telescope before dawn, you’ll see this planet shining as a wide waxing crescent.
By December 31, the moon and Venus will shine nearly side by side with only 10 degrees of angular separation. Also on this date, Mercury which was in evening dusk during early December will now be in the predawn sky, closer to the horizon. In the screenshot above, it was ~8 degrees above the horizon and ~25 degrees away from Venus. December 2010 provides you with the unique opportunity to catch Mercury in both the evening and morning sky in a single month. Using binoculars will help you see this tiny planet.
Clear skies to all! 🙂
Note: The general rule amateur astronomers use is that the width of your fist from top to bottom held at arm’s length equals about 10 degrees. Read more about this here.
The thin waxing crescent Moon (1.8% illuminated) shared the western sky with the planet Mercury (not visible due to the thick clouds) at dusk last December 7, 2010.
Every 29 1/2 days, the Moon completes one lunar cycle (new moon to new moon) in its orbit around the Earth. For the last few days of the cycle we have an “old moon” and then just after New Moon we have the chance to see a “young moon”, a very thin crescent moon, just like this one, above the horizon after the Sun goes down.
Image taken from the PAGASA Astronomical Observatory Sundeck at 6:54 PM PST using my 8.0 megapixel Kodak C813 digital camera.