Moon, Venus and Jupiter Dazzle on December 1


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…

59 Replies to “Moon, Venus and Jupiter Dazzle on December 1”

  1. 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..

  2. 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 know if it was just because I hadn’t seen Sirius that bright before being away from light pollution at night or if it in fact was not Sirius and was some other body, planet or star.

  3. Which one is Jupiter and which one is Venus?

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

  4. 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.

  5. 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…?

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

  7. 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.

  8. 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..

  9. 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!

  10. 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

  11. bethlehem, pa its cloudy and raining here! I hate that i had to miss out on this wonderful event. look forward to seeing photos.

  12. I went out with my kids tonight and showed them. They thought it was awesome, as did I.

    How often does this happen where we can see these two planets so close to the moon?

  13. Was able to see it quite nicley in Edmonton Alberta Canada, but it was not a smily face as the moons cresent was the other way around so it looked like a frowning face!

  14. I missed it as I was indoors. I do appreciate the photo. God gave us a sense of humor, this is a good example of God’s sense of humor. Let’s enjoy the beauty and the joke too.

  15. I was able to see it here in Manila Philippines and it was an amazing sky scenery the moon, jupiter and venus form a smiley face it was really amzing!!! =D

  16. I’m in Europe, and Venus was behind the moon here in the evening.

    Unfortunately we didn’t see anything here, because the sky was fully covered with clouds. πŸ™

  17. I am so glad everyone enjoyed the spectacle! Unfortunately, I got clouded out… But knowing that others got to see is reward enough.

    For a couple of quick astronomy lessons, the eclipitc plane in Australia isn’t reversed – it’s simply further north. It would seem “backwards” to those of us from the northern hemisphere because we normally stand with our backs to the north and view the ecliptic as passing from left to right – or basically east -south/east to west -south/west. There, you would stand with your back to the south and the ecliptic would pass from your right to left… or east – north/east to west north/west. If the position of the planets looks slightly different in Shevill’s photo than what you saw, remember the time difference! Celestial mechanics slow for no man… There’s at least 14 hours between Queensland and the east coast of the US!

    As for the Moon appearing upside down? I’m sorry. I don’t buy that. No matter where you are on Earth, the lighted side of the crescent Moon will always face towards the setting (or rising) Sun. It’s not my law – it’s Kepler’s. Shevill’s photograph doesn’t show an eclipse, just some very outstanding work to help reveal a phenomena known as “earthshine” – a rarity captured on film! And yes… if you look very carefully, he also captured some of Jupiter’s moons, too. (nice catch, to our eagle-eyed audience member!)

    While the Moon will have moved higher tonight, Jupiter and Venus will still be quite close this evening and well worth another look. For those of you with kids, try using your hands to measure how far the Moon has moved in just a day and guess how far it will move in another day… Do the same with the planets! While it’s not extremely scientific, it will instill a love of astronomy in your children that will last a lifetime.

    Wishing you clear skies!

  18. I love in Central NY. This site was truly amazing. I didn’t know about it prior, so was unprepared on my ride home from work at 7 pm. Maybe I’ll see it again in 2052!

  19. I was at a coastal town,mombasa in kenya and enjoyed the view from 6pm to around 11pm when the three amazingly “dissapeared into the ocean.
    The view even looked more interesting as these bodies found new partners;two telecom boosters red lights positioned the three in between them at 10pm making a pentagonal shape.
    I had though contacted people from across the country as early as 6pm.
    As we chewed ngomba at the coastl line viewing sun set,i alarmed some frends in a car but never took the issue serious and dismissed only to recieve sms in there phones much laters when this GOD DONE EXPERIMENT was almost over.They could not believe it when they had that the experiment will be repeated after 680 years!!! but it was over,over,over.GOD IS GREAT TO PERFORM TO US THIS FOR FREEEEEEEE.NO RAW MATERIALS

  20. This was an amazing show of my life, God appears and presents himself to us in very different and spectacular way, i said a little prayer to thank God for the worders he’s created for mankind. it was great at the ocean side cosatal city of mombasa -kenya.

  21. Last Night at 19:30 – 20:00hrs East African Time the moon was amazing in Nairobi:
    The sickle was lying low and Venus & Jupiter sat above it like the eyes of a smily! I had never seent he moon smiling at me quite as nicely before!!!!!
    Unfortunately clouds came up and we could no longer watch it

  22. Somebody flipped this image on the Horizontal axis. The waxing Moon is pointing the wrong direction.

  23. Unbelievable. I saw this yesterday evening in Accra, Ghana, and I thought to myself, that is a spectacular view, need to view it through a telescope. Unfortunately, by the time I got home, it was too low on the horizon for me. But now that I know it was Venus and Jupiter, I will be ready tonight. hopefully I can get a picture to remind me.

  24. it’s really pretty. i just saw it tonight. i thought that it was just 2 bright stars yesturday and thought nothing off it. until my teacher told us in class today, so I recorded it. it was a wonderful sight

  25. I live in Oman….I didnt get da news about it……It was by luck dat i went to da terrace to hang my clothes dat i actually did see da scene. It was just a smiley face….popping from behind da mountains. It was da most beautiful scenes ever witnessed. SubhanAllah. It was very damn clear….very bright. It was in da night dat i came to know wat dey actually were. this sight will again be seen after 52 years…(from da newspapers)!!

  26. LOL! Well, I will admit the planets have gone below the smile for your time zone! The eyes have slipped to the chin in Edmonton…

    It’s really wonderful to see the different reactions of everyone from around the world and how each one of you got to view the planets in a slightly different position from each of your respective time zones. It has been such a pleasure to view each of your photos and to read and share in your experiences!!

    “May we all shine on… Like the Moon and stars and the Sun…”

  27. I saw it. I am from the Philippines and saw it while I was at my 5th floor terrace. It looked exactly like a smiling face from my view. Didn’t even know it was going to happen. I guess I should count myself lucky to have chanced upon it.

  28. We saw a jaw-dropping view here in
    Maryland USA.7PM. I did not know what
    the two planets were, but knew they were
    not just stars. it was the most beautiful
    celestial sight I have ever seen. I had to go on line to find out the facts. I wonder how this
    conjunction will effect some astrological

  29. it was awsome the view from lebanon i was driving back from the North going south and the view was in front of me all way long …
    i was at the verge of doing more than 20 accidents:):)

  30. I am not normally a night sky watcher, but Venus and Mars were so beautiful and clear, that it was impossible not to notice in the dark night sky above Swellendam, South Africa. The picture I saw was just upside down from the photo seen above. Amazing to see how different the night sky looks from the Southern and Northern hemispheres,

  31. So many people from around the world!! What an incredibly touching response from all of you…

    I’ve followed every link and read every post. You’ll never know how much your words and pictures have meant to me or just how well timed it is. I cannot thank all of you enough…

  32. The shot above is from the southern hemisphere. Tasmania, Australia. It would have looked the same in South Africa!
    And it was Venus & Jupiter, not Mars.

  33. I saw the event last night from Brunswick, Georgia just north of Jacksonville, Florida. It was amazing to see Venus and Jupiter that close to the moon. The night sky was clear and I told many people to step outside. I had been waiting for days for the event but it’s amazing to me how many people don’t know or care!!!

    Does anyone know if there was any part of our planet that probably couldn’t see the two planets because the moon was eclipsing it?

  34. On Monday, December 1st at about 5:30 pm, here in Houston, Texas, I noticed the beautiful conjunction of the planets and the Moon. Many astrologers deem Jupiter and Venus together as a good or benefic combination and with our Moon engaged, I was just thankful that us humans can wander at nature’s beauty, God’s majesty, our Creator’s universal embrace. To cap it all off, my friend and I were blessed with attending the end of the 2008 tour of The Eagles musical group in Houston that same evening! It had been postponed from the September due to Hurricane Ike. Thank you Ms. Plotner and all the rest who create this webpage. Outstanding layout!

  35. Yeah I saw it too. I live in Halifax, Vermont, and I saw it on December 1, 2008 and December 2, 2008 from like 7:00 to 8:30 each day. I is just amazing to look at!!!

  36. this is so cool i had to look at this for extra credit for school and im glad i did!!!!!!!!!!!

  37. Michael from Dec. 1 posting…. see the link here; it should answer your question regarding the position of the planets right now; explaining how this could possibly happen.


  38. I live in busy, light-polluted Manhattan, so have stopped paying attention to night sky events. Early Monday evening, however, I was standing on a busy street corner at about 5:30pm when something caught my eye and I had to look up past the buildings. I couldn’t believe what I saw! The moon in beautiful, slim crescent with two bright planets! I always carry my camera, and I was so thankful to have it with me then. I stood alone in my awe as the busy crowds hurried by. The pictures actually turned out nice, especially considering they were taken on 6th & 23rd in Manhattan! And only now, four days later, am I stopping to look on line to find more info on the spectacle. How touched I am to see how many people around the world were struck by surprise–on the same evening and even close to the same time–and stopped to look up in wonder at the heavens. I wasn’t alone, after all.

  39. Hi All,

    I appreciate all your comments and the interesting observations. For those of you who live in the northern hemisphere, as I used to in Leeds, England, the naked eye view is different to the photo you see in the story. For us ‘down under’ the photo represents just how people saw it in the sky.

    The camera exposure of 1-second is about 25 times longer than the human eye can do, so it can capture that faint earthshine-(illuminated dark part of the Moon) that the eye cannot see very easily.

    If you go to this link here, you will see a range of different images/exposure times which illustrate what I mean.

    Enjoy, and thank you all for your welcome comments,

    Shevill- Tasmania 42 South

  40. Hi,

    Someone raised a question about how often these conjunction can be seen/occur. Every year there is a gathering of planets sometimes with a waxing oe waning crescent Moon, but the average person is not used to looking for these events, so unless we have someone like Tammy getting these events into the public media, they often go unknown or unnoticed.

    In July this year, there was a very interesting line up of the Moon, a bright star and two other planets, Mars & Saturn. Follow this link to these images.

    Shevill – Tasmania 42 South

  41. I saw this while visiting India. I was standing in front of my home, it was so spectacular and mind boggling, I called my parents but my partially-disabled dad refused. So very good that I felt compelled to make him see, I carried him to the driveway so that he could see it. We took photos but our camera was not able to get crispy pictures like Shevill’s from Tasmania.

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