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 about to go home when I caught a glimpse of Venus and the thin Moon hanging close together in the western sky at dusk last January 26.
I didn’t have a camera with me then. Fortunately, a friend of mine had his camera and let me use it to take a few images of this stunning sight.
Venus is now shining brilliantly in the west-southwest after sunset at magnitude -4.0. It will be climbing higher in our sky over the next three months as it comes closer to us in its orbit. Over that time the planet will brighten but its phase will shrink as the Sun shifts to the other side of Venus from us.
By February 2012, Venus will climb up higher into the evening sky and will stay out even longer after dark. It’ll be at its highest above the sunset in March 2012, when Jupiter and Venus will stage an amazing conjunction in the western twilight sky. These two bright planets will lie about three degrees apart in the West in the constellation Aries. Venus will beam at magnitude -4.3, and Jupiter is a worthy companion at magnitude -2.1. The pairing will make for a lovely photo op. 🙂
On March 25, Venus, Jupiter and the thin crescent Moon will form a straight line in the western sky.
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 😀