Venus, Jupiter and Moon - Shevill Mathers

Moon, Venus and Jupiter Dazzle on December 1

1 Dec , 2008

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Are you ready for some spectacular sky scenery tonight? Then keep your fingers crossed for clear weather as the slender crescent Moon, Venus and Jupiter provide one of the finest sky shows we’ve seen all year – a conjunction in the west to dazzle the eye and boggle the brain! But just exactly why does seeing bright planets draw together command our attention? Step inside and let’s find out…

“Your eye is like a digital camera,” explains Dr. Stuart Hiroyasu, O.D., of Bishop, California. “There’s a lens in front to focus the light, and a photo-array behind the lens to capture the image. The photo-array in your eye is called the retina. It’s made of rods and cones, the fleshy organic equivalent of electronic pixels.” Near the center of the retina lies the fovea, a patch of tissue 1.5 millimeters wide where cones are extra-densely packed. “Whatever you see with the fovea, you see in high-definition,” he says. The fovea is critical to reading, driving, watching television. The fovea has the brain’s attention. The field of view of the fovea is only about five degrees wide.” Tonight, Venus, Jupiter and the crescent Moon will all fit together inside that narrow angle, signaling to the brain, “this is worth watching!”

When it comes to our eyes, almost every photoreceptor has one ganglion cell receiving data in the fovea. That means there’s almost no data loss and the absence of blood vessels in the area means almost no loss of light either. There is direct passage to our receptors – an amazing 50% of the visual cortex in the brain! Since the fovea doesn’t have rods, it isn’t sensitive to dim lights. That’s another reason why the conjunctions are more attractive than the surrounding starfields. Astronomers know a lot about the fovea for a good reason: it’s is why we learn to use averted vision. We avoid the fovea when observing very dim objects in the eyepiece.

Let’s pretend we’re a photoreceptor. If a light were to strike us, we’d be “on” – recording away. If we were a ganglion cell, the light really wouldn’t do much of anything. However, the biological recorder would have responded to a pinpoint of light, a ring of light, or a light with a dark edge to it. Why? Light in general just simply doesn’t excite the ganglion, but it does wake up the neighbor cells. A small spot of light makes the ganglion go crazy, but the neighbors don’t pay much attention. However, a ring of light makes the neighbors go nuts and the ganglion turns off. It’s all a very complicated response to a simple scene, but still fun to understand why we are compelled to look!

Many of us have been watching the spectacle draw closer over the last several days. How many of you have seen the Venus and Jupiter pair appear one over the top of each other – looking almost like a distant tower with bright lights? What we’ve been observing is Kepler’s Laws of Planetary Motion in action – and it’s a great way to familiarize yourself with celestial mechanics. What’s happening tonight is called a conjunction. This is a term used in positional astronomy which means two (or more) celestial bodies appear near one another in the sky. Sometimes the event is also called an appulse.

No matter what you call it, what you’ll see tonight is a worldwide happening and will look hauntingly like a “happy face” painted on the early evening sky. Don’t miss it!

Our deepest appreciation goes to Shevill Mathers for his dedication in getting this shot to share with us, and all the rest of the great astrophotographers at Northern Galactic and Southern Galactic who have also gave it their best shot! There can be only one…


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Erik J
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Erik J
December 1, 2008 9:20 AM

Cloud overhang sad

Alwyn
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Alwyn
December 1, 2008 9:25 AM

i saw it few min. back. it was so beautifull . it was like a smiling face with two eyes like planets shining like stars . really it was so beautifull..

Eric Near Buffalo
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Eric Near Buffalo
December 1, 2008 10:04 AM
I was in a rural area about 50 miles away from Buffalo, NY this past Saturday and as we were traveling back home I got my first good look at Orion for this winter. I was amazed at the brightness of a star/planet that was maybe 2 Orion widths south-east of the constellation. I read an article somewhere online this morning and thru my own interpretation found out that it might have been Sirius, but I’m not sure. Orion’s belt was almost in alignment with it and if Orion was looking at you, it was below and to the left of his right leg by about 2 widths of the constellation itself, as I mentioned before. I don’t… Read more »
Kieran
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Kieran
December 1, 2008 5:16 PM

It was on my 14th Birthday. Beautiful. stuart is gay

Eli Zak
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Eli Zak
December 1, 2008 11:15 AM

A magnificent sight from the coast of the Mediterranean sea in Israel.

Allan Grace
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Allan Grace
December 1, 2008 12:34 PM

hi i saw it took a few shots myself,briliant

Allan Grace
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Allan Grace
December 1, 2008 12:36 PM

oh sorry im in wales uk

larissa
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larissa
December 1, 2008 2:40 PM

BRILLANT. Cant wait to get my camera and have some shots taken. I am in MA/US

HeadAroundU
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HeadAroundU
December 1, 2008 2:57 PM

Which one is Jupiter and which one is Venus?

And what’s up with the moon? Partial Eclipse?

HeadAroundU
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HeadAroundU
December 1, 2008 3:01 PM

Bah, nevermind that question about moon. Edit button? :p

Salacious B. Crumb
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Salacious B. Crumb
December 1, 2008 3:17 PM

The little kids thought this event was just wonderful, champing at the bit for darkness to see “the smiling face”. This event was announced via the press by Sydney Observatory and certainly provided some general enthusiasm for astronomy. Can’t help thinking this event might lead to produce a few new eager young amateur astronomers in the future.

Wandile Bangisi
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Wandile Bangisi
December 1, 2008 3:19 PM

The view was spectacular here in Pretoria, South Africa

kendihalinde
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December 1, 2008 3:40 PM

see for crescent moon and venus : http://kendihalinde.wordpress.com

Frederick
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Frederick
December 1, 2008 4:27 PM

Isn’t this picture backwards? The moon should be a waxing cresent while jupiter and venus should be on the right side of the moon. Am I missing something or is this picture a little backwards…?

Zach
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Zach
December 1, 2008 4:50 PM

Im in gastonia north carolina it’s a beautiful site a site i will only see once in my lifetime

L. Mahnken Jr.
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L. Mahnken Jr.
December 1, 2008 4:57 PM

watched it for about an hour. Cloudy, but visible. Nice one so close to my birthday. Neighbors trees finally blocked it out around 7:15. Was definitely worth the wait.

Michael
Guest
Michael
December 1, 2008 5:09 PM

Excuse my ignorance, but how can Venus and Jupiter appear in the same “quadrant”, if you will. Wouldn’t Venus be on the other side of Earth?

I’m just confused how were are behind Venus, Jupiter is behind us, yet Venus and Jupiter are supposedly aligned and we can see both of them? Please don’t tell me the subtitling is wrong..

Kieran
Guest
Kieran
December 1, 2008 5:19 PM

This was on my 14th Birthday. It was cool

Rich
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Rich
December 1, 2008 5:31 PM

5:15 PM Denver CO USA… Frederick (13.) has a good question! The photo was taken in Tasmania (south of the equator) where the moon appears to wax left to right – the reverse for us in the northern hemisphere. “Down-under” you see the moon “upside down”. However, I still can’t get my mind around the stars appearing to the right of the moon in BOTH hemispheres. Is the width of the earth big enough to change the viewing angle that much over the time difference? Some astronomer help please!

chris castillo
Guest
chris castillo
December 1, 2008 5:33 PM

Philippines 12/02/08 (8:31 am.) – it was a clear night sky last night and it’s just a perfect timing for us to see those 3 brightest objects shining down on us…
it was a beautiful sight! xD

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