Stunning Planetary Trio Pictures from Around the World

Have you seen the views in the morning skies this week, with three planets huddling together at dawn? Just one degree separated planets Jupiter and Venus, with Mars sneaking in nearby. Astrophotographers were out in full force to capture the scene!

Above, the very talented photographer Alan Dyer from Canada captured a stunning image of the planetary trio over Lake Annette, in Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada. He took several gorgeous shots, and so we’ve added one more of his below, plus dozens of other wonderful shots from our astrophotographer friends around the world. Each of these images are from Universe Today’s Flickr pool, so you can click on each picture to get a larger view on Flickr.

Enjoy these great views, as there won’t be a more compact arrangement of three planets again until January 10, 2021.

A panorama of roughly 120° showing a star- and planet-filled sky in the dawn twilight over Lake Annette in Jasper National Park, Alberta, on the morning of October 25, 2015.   At left, to the east, are the two bright planets, Venus (brightest) and Jupiter in a close conjunction 1° apart (and here almost merging into one glow), plus reddish Mars below them, all in Leo, with the bright star Regulus above them. Right of centre, to the south, is Orion and Canis Major, with the bright star Sirius low in the south. At upper right are the stars of Taurus, including Aldebaran and the Hyades star cluster. Venus was near greatest elongation on this morning. Credit and copyright: Alan Dyer.
A panorama of roughly 120° showing a star- and planet-filled sky in the dawn twilight over Lake Annette in Jasper National Park, Alberta, on the morning of October 25, 2015.
At left, to the east, are the two bright planets, Venus (brightest) and Jupiter in a close conjunction 1° apart (and here almost merging into one glow), plus reddish Mars below them, all in Leo, with the bright star Regulus above them. Right of centre, to the south, is Orion and Canis Major, with the bright star Sirius low in the south. At upper right are the stars of Taurus, including Aldebaran and the Hyades star cluster. Venus was near greatest elongation on this morning. Credit and copyright: Alan Dyer.
Taken from Coral Towers Observatory in Queensland, Australia on October 28, 2014. Venus is to the right of and slightly below Jupiter and Mars is to the right of and below Venus. The pre-dawn landscape is illuminated by moonlight. Credit and copyright: Joseph Brimacombe.
Taken from Coral Towers Observatory in Queensland, Australia on October 28, 2014. Venus is to the right of and slightly below Jupiter and Mars is to the right of and below Venus. The pre-dawn landscape is illuminated by moonlight. Credit and copyright: Joseph Brimacombe.
Jupiter, Venus, and Mars rise behind the 14,155 foot peak of Mount Democrat in Colorado. Credit and copyright: Patrick Cullis.
Jupiter, Venus, and Mars rise behind the 14,155 foot peak of Mount Democrat in Colorado. Credit and copyright: Patrick Cullis.
Spooky Selfie, Three Planets and a Dead Satellite. The planetary conjunction of Jupiter, Venus and Mars on October 26, 2015, along with the ADEOS II satellite, which died in orbit in 2003 after the solar panels failed. Credit and copyright: Tom Wildoner.
Spooky Selfie, Three Planets and a Dead Satellite. The planetary conjunction of Jupiter, Venus and Mars on October 26, 2015, along with the ADEOS II satellite, which died in orbit in 2003 after the solar panels failed. Credit and copyright: Tom Wildoner.
Planetary conjunction of Jupiter, Venus and Mars as seen from Search Results     Map of Le Puy Saint-Bonnet, 49300 Cholet, France     Le Puy Saint-Bonnet, 49300 Cholet, France     Le Puy-Saint-Bonnet in France on October 26, 2015. Credit and copyright: David de Cueves.
Planetary conjunction of Jupiter, Venus and Mars as seen from Search Results
Map of Le Puy Saint-Bonnet, 49300 Cholet, France
Le Puy Saint-Bonnet, 49300 Cholet, France
Le Puy-Saint-Bonnet in France on October 26, 2015. Credit and copyright: David de Cueves.
Venus, Jupiter and Mars grace the morning skies in France on October 26, 2015. Credit and copyright: Frank Tyrlik.
Venus, Jupiter and Mars grace the morning skies in France on October 26, 2015. Credit and copyright: Frank Tyrlik.

Here’s a timelapse from Damien Weatherley of his planet imaging session from the morning of October 25, 2015:

Astronomy timelapse 25.10.15

Venus, Jupiter & Mars create a close triangle in the eastern sky at dawn! John Chumack captured this image above his backyard Observatory in Dayton, Ohio on 10-26-2015. Credit and copyright: John Chumack.
Venus, Jupiter & Mars create a close triangle in the eastern sky at dawn! John Chumack captured this image above his backyard Observatory in Dayton, Ohio on 10-26-2015. Credit and copyright: John Chumack.
A zoomed out view of the planetary trio from John Chumack's observatory in Dayton, Ohio on October 25, 2015. Credit and copyright: John Chumack.
A zoomed out view of the planetary trio from John Chumack’s observatory in Dayton, Ohio on October 25, 2015. Credit and copyright: John Chumack.
Conjunction of Venus, Jupiter & Mars on the morning of  Monday Oct. 26, 2015. Credit and copyright: Holly Roberts.
Conjunction of Venus, Jupiter & Mars on the morning of Monday Oct. 26, 2015. Credit and copyright: Holly Roberts.
Jupiter and Venus conjunction on October 25, 2015. They were approximately with a degree and a half of each other. Jupiter's moons are visible. Credit and copyright: Chris Lyons.
Jupiter and Venus conjunction on October 25, 2015. They were approximately with a degree and a half of each other. Jupiter’s moons are visible. Credit and copyright: Chris Lyons.
Venus and the almost invisible Jupiter struggled to shine through the haze on the morning of October 25, 2015, as seen in Malaysia. Credit and copyright: Shahrin Ahmad.
Venus and the almost invisible Jupiter struggled to shine through the haze on the morning of October 25, 2015, as seen in Malaysia. Credit and copyright:Shahrin Ahmad.
Venus, Jupiter and Mars in the hazy, cloudy morning skies over the UK on October 25, 2015. Credit and copyright: Sarah and Simon Fisher.
Venus, Jupiter and Mars in the hazy, cloudy morning skies over the UK on October 25, 2015. Credit and copyright: Sarah and Simon Fisher.

And here’s just a reminder that this planetary conjunction has been setting up for a while. Here’s a shot from October 10 of the planets as they started moving closer together:

A spooky planetary conjunction of Venus, Jupiter and Mars on October 10, 2015 on the Isle of Mull, Scotland. Credit and copyright: Shaun Reynold.
A spooky planetary conjunction of Venus, Jupiter and Mars on October 10, 2015 on the Isle of Mull, Scotland. Credit and copyright: Shaun Reynold.

Astrophotos: Spectacular Venus-Jupiter Conjunction Graces the Dawn

The closest planetary conjunction of the year graced the skies this morning, and astrophotographers were out in force to marvel at the beauty. The duo were just 11.9’ apart, less than half the diameter of a Full Moon. Also joining the view was M44, the Beehive Cluster. We start with this gorgeous shot from Queensland, Australia by one of our longtime favorite astrophotographers, Joseph Brimacombe.

But wait… there’s more! Much more! See below:

The Jupiter and Venus conjunction on August 18, 2014 along with the Beehive Cluster. Credit and copyright: Tom Wildoner.
The Jupiter and Venus conjunction on August 18, 2014 along with the Beehive Cluster. Credit and copyright: Tom Wildoner.
Telescopic view of Venus and Jupiter in the morning sky over Lahore, Pakistan. Shot with a Nikon D5100. Credit and copyright: Roshaan Bukhari.
Telescopic view of Venus and Jupiter in the morning sky over Lahore, Pakistan. Shot with a Nikon D5100. Credit and copyright: Roshaan Bukhari.
Beautiful conjunction of Jupiter and Venus over the Appennines on August 18, 2014. The foreground in the image shows the Peligna Valley in central Italy and the city of Sulmona. Credit and copyright: Giuseppe Petricca
Beautiful conjunction of Jupiter and Venus over the Appennines on August 18, 2014. The foreground in the image shows the Peligna Valley in central Italy and the city of Sulmona. Credit and copyright: Giuseppe Petricca
Jupiter-Venus-M44 conjunction on August 18, 2014. Image taken with Canon EOS 50D, through Skywatcher ED80.  Credit and copyright:  Zoran Novak.
Jupiter-Venus-M44 conjunction on August 18, 2014. Image taken with Canon EOS 50D, through Skywatcher ED80. Credit and copyright: Zoran Novak.
Close approach of Venus and Jupiter with M44 in the same field on August 18, 2014 over Payson, Arizona. Shot with a Canon XTi DSLR, 5 seconds exposure, ISO 400, 4" f/4.5 Newtonian. Credit and copyright: Chris Schur.
Close approach of Venus and Jupiter with M44 in the same field on August 18, 2014 over Payson, Arizona. Shot with a Canon XTi DSLR, 5 seconds exposure, ISO 400, 4″ f/4.5 Newtonian. Credit and copyright: Chris Schur.
Conjunction between the planets Venus(top) and Jupiter (bottom) as seen from London just before dawn on 18th August 2014. Credit and copyright: Roger Hutchinson.
Conjunction between the planets Venus(top) and Jupiter (bottom) as seen from London just before dawn on 18th August 2014. Credit and copyright: Roger Hutchinson.
Tight grouping of Venus and Jupiter,  captured at twilight on an 18 day old moon, one can see the two planets less than 1 degree apart in the sky. This image was captured at Damdama Lake, Haryana, India. Credit and copyright:  Rishabh Jain.
Tight grouping of Venus and Jupiter,
captured at twilight on an 18 day old moon, one can see the two planets less than 1 degree apart in the sky. This image was captured at Damdama Lake, Haryana, India. Credit and copyright: Rishabh Jain.
When Venus and Jupiter were almost touching in the sky! August 18, 2014 over  Königswinter-Heisterbacherrott in Germany. Credit and copyright: Daniel Fischer.
When Venus and Jupiter were almost touching in the sky! August 18, 2014 over Königswinter-Heisterbacherrott in Germany. Credit and copyright: Daniel Fischer.
Venus and Jupiter 1/2 degree apart low in the pink twilight at lower left, with the waning crescent Moon near Aldebaran at upper right, taken from Alberta Canada on August 18, 2014 at dawn, looking due east. This is a single 1 second exposure at f/4 with the 16-35mm lens and Canon 6D at ISO 800. Credit and copyright: Alan Dyer/Amazing Sky Photography.
Venus and Jupiter 1/2 degree apart low in the pink twilight at lower left, with the waning crescent Moon near Aldebaran at upper right, taken from Alberta Canada on August 18, 2014 at dawn, looking due east. This is a single 1 second exposure at f/4 with the 16-35mm lens and Canon 6D at ISO 800. Credit and copyright: Alan Dyer/Amazing Sky Photography.
Venus-Saturn conjunction on August 18, 2014, as see from Topaz Lake on the California - Nevada border. Credit and copyright: Jeff Sullivan/Jeff Sullivan Photography.
Venus-Saturn conjunction on August 18, 2014, as see from Topaz Lake on the California – Nevada border. Credit and copyright: Jeff Sullivan/Jeff Sullivan Photography.
A sample of four images in various locations/moments at Pescara, Italy. Credit and copyright: Marco Di Lorenzo.
A sample of four images in various locations/moments at Pescara, Italy. Credit and copyright: Marco Di Lorenzo.

Want to get your astrophoto featured on Universe Today? Join our Flickr group or send us your images by email (this means you’re giving us permission to post them). Please explain what’s in the picture, when you took it, the equipment you used, etc.

Beautiful Timelapse of a Triple Planetary Conjunction

We’ve shared oodles of great images from the recent planetary conjunction of Jupiter, Mercury and Venus, visible in the evening skies last week. But this video from astrophotographer César Cantú is just plain beautiful. On the evening of May 25, the conjunction of the three planets formed a triangle that moved through the sky, as seen from Big Bear Park in California, USA. César said via Twitter that the “star” effect was create by processing the video or with 4,6 or 8 point star filters.

And we’ve got one more conjunction image to share — actually six.

Joe Shuster from Salem, Missouri had six great evenings of photographing the planetary conjunction, and put them together into one collage. He used a Canon T1i and Nikkon 105mm lens. Lucky guy!

Rare Spectacular Triple Planet Conjunction Wows World! – Astrophoto Gallery

Triple planets (Venus/Jupiter/Mercury) conjunction over Mont-Saint-Michel, Normandy, France on May 26. Credit: Thierry Legault –
www.astrophoto.fr
Update: See expanded Conjunction astrophoto gallery below[/caption]

The rare astronomical coincidence of a spectacular triangular triple conjunction of 3 bright planets happening right now is certainly wowing the entire World of Earthlings! That is if our gallery of astrophotos assembled here is any indication.

Right at sunset, our Solar System’s two brightest planets – Venus and Jupiter – as well as the sun’s closest planet Mercury are very closely aligned for about a week in late May 2013 – starting several days ago and continuing throughout this week.

And, for an extra special bonus – did you know that a pair of spacecraft from Earth are orbiting two of those planets?

Have you seen it yet ?

Well you’re are in for a celestial treat. The conjunction is visible to the naked eye – look West to Northwest shortly after sunset. No telescopes or binoculars needed.

Triple conjunction shot on May 26 from a mile high in Payson,Az.  4 second exposure, ISO200, Canon 10D, 80mm f/5 lens. Credit: Chris Schur- http://www.schursastrophotography.com
Triple conjunction shot on May 26 from a mile high in Payson,Az. 4 second exposure, ISO200, Canon 10D, 80mm f/5 lens. Credit: Chris Schur- http://www.schursastrophotography.com

Just check out our Universe Today collection of newly snapped astrophoto’s and videos sent to Nancy and Ken by stargazing enthusiasts from across the globe. See an earlier gallery – here.

Throughout May, the trio of wandering planets have been gradually gathering closer and closer.

On May 26 and 27, Venus, Jupiter and Mercury appear just 3 degrees apart as a spectacular triangularly shaped object in the sunset skies – which
adds a palatial pallet of splendid hues not possible at higher elevations.

And don’t dawdle if you want to see this celestial feast. The best times are 30 to 60 minutes after sunset – because thereafter they’ll disappear below the horizon.

The sky show will continue into late May as the planets alignment changes every day.

On May 28, Venus and Jupiter close in to within just 1 degree.

And on May 30 & 31, Venus, Jupiter and Mercury will form an imaginary line in the sky.

Triple planetary conjunctions are a rather rare occurrence. The last one took place in May 2011. And we won’t see another one until October 2015.

Indeed the wandering trio are also currently the three brightest planets visible. Venus is about magnitude minus 4, Jupiter is about minus 2.

While you’re enjoying the fantastic view, ponder this: The three planets are also joined by two orbiting spacecraft from humanity. NASA’s MESSENGER is orbiting Mercury. ESA’s Venus Express is orbiting Venus. And NASA’s Juno spacecraft is on a long looping trajectory to Jupiter.

Send Ken you conjunction photos to post here.

And don’t forget to “Send Your Name to Mars” aboard NASA’s MAVEN orbiter- details here. Deadline: July 1, 2013

Ken Kremer

…………….
Learn more about Conjunctions, Mars, Curiosity, Opportunity, MAVEN, LADEE and NASA missions at Ken’s upcoming lecture presentations:

June 4: “Send your Name to Mars” and “CIBER Astro Sat, LADEE Lunar & Antares Rocket Launches from Virginia”; Rodeway Inn, Chincoteague, VA, 8:30 PM

June 11: “Send your Name to Mars” and “LADEE Lunar & Antares Rocket Launches from Virginia”; NJ State Museum Planetarium and Amateur Astronomers Association of Princeton (AAAP), Trenton, NJ, 730 PM.

June 12: “Send your Name to Mars” and “LADEE Lunar & Antares Rocket Launches from Virginia”; Franklin Institute and Rittenhouse Astronomical Society, Philadelphia, PA, 8 PM.

May 25 conjunction over Malta. Canon 450D with a 55mm. lens and an exposure of 1/2 second at ISO 200 on a tripod.  Credit: Leonard Ellul-Mercer
May 25 conjunction over Malta. Canon 450D with a 55mm. lens and an exposure of 1/2 second at ISO 200 on a tripod. Credit: Leonard Ellul-Mercer
May 26 triple conjunction from Warwick, NY snapped from Canon Rebel, 100mm – 300mm lens.  Credit: Pietro Carboni
May 26 triple conjunction from Warwick, NY snapped from Canon Rebel, 100mm – 300mm lens. Credit: Pietro Carboni
Triple conjunction from  Hondo, Texas taken with a Nikon D800 @ ISO 400 and a 2 second exposure with a Nikon 300mm Lens at F/4.  Credit: Adrian New
Triple conjunction from Hondo, Texas taken with a Nikon D800 @ ISO 400 and a 2 second exposure with a Nikon 300mm Lens at F/4. Credit: Adrian New
Sunset conjunction with fast moving clouds on May 26 through 10 x 50 binoculars from a seashore town -Marina di Pisa, Tuscany, Italy. Credit: Giuseppe Petricca
Sunset conjunction with fast moving clouds on May 26 through 10 x 50 binoculars from a seashore town -Marina di Pisa, Tuscany, Italy. Credit: Giuseppe Petricca


Caption: Taken on 2013-05-23 from Salem, Missouri. Canon T1i, Nikkor 105mm lens. 297 1/4s at 1s interval. Images assembled by QuickTime Pro. Credit: Joseph Shuster

May 26 sunset conjunction from Princeton, NJ. Credit: Ken Kremer -kenkremer.com
May 26 sunset conjunction from Princeton, NJ. Credit: Ken Kremer -kenkremer.com
Triple Planetary conjunction over Onset MA. Shot with a Nikon d7000 1/200 f 4 iso 100 at 110mm. Credit: Phillip Damiano
Triple Planetary conjunction over Onset MA. Shot with a Nikon d7000 1/200 f 4 iso 100 at 110mm. Credit: Phillip Damiano
Panoramic view over Almada City and Lisbon at the Nautical Twilight, with the Full moon rising above the Eastern horizon (right side of the image), while at the same time but in the opposite direction, the planets Venus, Mercury and Jupiter, are aligned in a triangle formation, setting in the Western horizon (left side of the image).In this panoramic picture is also visible the smooth light transition in the sky, with the end of Nautical Twilight and the beginning of Astronomical Twilight (almost night), at right. Facing to North, is visible the great lighted Monument Christ the King and at the left side of it, part of the 25 April Bridge that connects Almada to Lisbon.  Canon 50D - ISO200; f/4; Exp. 1,6 Sec; 35mm. Panoramic of 10 images with about 200º, taken at 21h42 in 25/05/2013.  Credit: Miguel Claro - www.miguelclaro.com
Panoramic view over Almada City and Lisbon at the Nautical Twilight, with the Full moon rising above the Eastern horizon (right side of the image), while at the same time but in the opposite direction, the planets Venus, Mercury and Jupiter, are aligned in a triangle formation, setting in the Western horizon (left side of the image).In this panoramic picture is also visible the smooth light transition in the sky, with the end of Nautical Twilight and the beginning of Astronomical Twilight (almost night), at right. Facing to North, is visible the great lighted Monument Christ the King and at the left side of it, part of the 25 April Bridge that connects Almada to Lisbon. Canon 50D – ISO200; f/4; Exp. 1,6 Sec; 35mm. Panoramic of 10 images with about 200º, taken at 21h42 in 25/05/2013. Credit: Miguel Claro – www.miguelclaro.com
The triple conjunction of Venus, Mercury and Jupiter as seen over an Arizona desert landscape. Credit and copyright: Robert Sparks.
The triple conjunction of Venus, Mercury and Jupiter as seen over an Arizona desert landscape. Credit and copyright: Robert Sparks.
Jupiter, Venus and Mercury triple conjunction May 26 seen here reflecting off Chatsworth Lake in Chatsworth, NJ. Jupiter (on the left) was 2.4° from Mercury (upper-right in the sky) and 2.0° from Venus (bottom right in the sky), while Venus and Mercury were 1.9° apart. Venus was at 2.6° altitude. Canon EOS 6D, 105 mm focal length, 1.3 seconds, f/6.3, ISO 800. Credit: Joe Stieber - sjastro.org/
Jupiter, Venus and Mercury triple conjunction seen here reflecting off Chatsworth Lake in Chatsworth, NJ. Jupiter (on the left) was 2.4° from Mercury (upper-right in the sky) and 2.0° from Venus (bottom right in the sky), while Venus and Mercury were 1.9° apart. Venus was at 2.6° altitude. Canon EOS 6D, 105 mm focal length, 1.3 seconds, f/6.3, ISO 800. Credit: Joe Stieber – sjastro.org/
Triple conjunction on May 27 with WBZ radio towers south east of Boston.  Hampton Hill, Hull, MA.  Nikon D3x -iso200- 1.3 sec.at f2.8. Credit: Richard W. Green
Triple conjunction on May 27 with WBZ radio towers south east of Boston. Hampton Hill, Hull, MA. Nikon D3x -iso200- 1.3 sec.at f2.8. Credit: Richard W. Green

Astrophotos: Triple Planetary Conjunction

Images are starting to come in of the bright planetary conjunction in the western sky at dusk! Jupiter, Venus and Mercury are snuggling up together, and we’ve got a wonderful weekend coming up with alignments including three separate conjunctions and ever-changing triangular arrangements as the nights go by. Mercury and Venus pair up on Friday; Mercury and Jupiter on Sunday and Venus and Jupiter on Monday. See our preview article for more detailed info on how to see the planetary trio each night, and there are more images below:

A view of the planetary conjunction on May 24, 2013, as see from the Middle East Technical Universty in Ankara, Turkey. Credit and copyright:  M. Rasid Tugral.
A view of the planetary conjunction on May 24, 2013, as see from the Middle East Technical Universty in Ankara, Turkey. Credit and copyright: M. Rasid Tugral.
Three evening planets – Jupiter, Venus and Mercury --  on May 23, 2013 at about 9pm CDT, as see from Salem, Missouri.  The photographer noted a fourth planet is also  visible in this photo: Earth! Credit and copyright: Joe Shuster.
Three evening planets – Jupiter, Venus and Mercury — on May 23, 2013 at about 9pm CDT, as see from Salem, Missouri. The photographer noted a fourth planet is also visible in this photo: Earth! Credit and copyright: Joe Shuster.
Mercury, Venus and Jupiter as seen near Tucson, Arizona on May 22, 2013. Credit and copyright: Robert Sparks.
Mercury, Venus and Jupiter as seen near Tucson, Arizona on May 22, 2013. Credit and copyright: Robert Sparks.
Planetary conjunction of Jupiter, Mercury and Venus on May 24, 2013, seen from Japan. Credit and copyright: Jason Hill.
Planetary conjunction of Jupiter, Mercury and Venus on May 24, 2013, seen from Japan. Credit and copyright: Jason Hill.
Three bright planets will highlight the northwestern sky this week and early next. Mercury is shown in pink and Jupiter in yellow. Stellarium
Three bright planets will highlight the northwestern sky this week and early next. Mercury is shown in pink and Jupiter in yellow. Stellarium
Planetary trio on May 24,  20:45  PM, from Ankara, Turkey. The photographer notes this was his first attempt to image Mercury. Credit and copyright: Yuksel Kenaroglu.
Planetary trio on May 24, 20:45 PM, from Ankara, Turkey. The photographer notes this was his first attempt to image Mercury. Credit and copyright: Yuksel Kenaroglu.
Triple planetary conjunction as see from Nashville, Tennessee on May 24, 2013. Credit and copyright: Theo Wellington.
Triple planetary conjunction as see from Nashville, Tennessee on May 24, 2013. Credit and copyright: Theo Wellington.

Want to get your astrophoto featured on Universe Today? Join our Flickr group or send us your images by email (this means you’re giving us permission to post them). Please explain what’s in the picture, when you took it, the equipment you used, etc.

Planetary Conjunction Mashup

A Boulder Side of Venus – Conjunctions 2012 from Patrick Cullis on Vimeo.

So far, 2012 has brought us a plethora of planetary conjunctions, with Venus pairing with the Moon, Jupiter and the Pleiades. Not all at the same time, of course, but photographer Patrick Cullis has put them all together in this wonderful timelapse mashup video, which includes the beautiful foreground of the Flatirons of Boulder, CO. “Jupiter and Venus dominated the early days of March, coming within 3 degrees of one another,” writes Patrick. “Then, Venus passed a crescent moon on its way to a meeting with the Seven Sisters, also known as the Pleiades.”

And we’re all waiting for this year’s big conjunction on June 5 or 6, 2012, depending on your location, then the tiny disk of Venus will glide across the face of the Sun. That won’t happen again until 2117.

To complete our conjunction mashup, we’ve got a really unique image, below, of a triple conjunction between 3 different objects, Venus, The Pleiades and an airplane taken on April 4, sent to us by Shahrin Ahmad in Malaysia, PLUS, a wonderful new poem by space’s poet laureate, Stuart Atkinson, about his experiences viewing the recent conjunctions. It’s a must read for any amateur astronomer, putting to words the joys — and disappointments — of lifting your eyes to the heavens!

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CONJUNCTION

By Stuart Atkinson

For weeks I watched them drift towards each other,
Approaching shyly, slyly; two would-be lovers
From a Jane Austen dance, casting furtive glances
Across the ballroom of the golden twilight,
Eyes for no-one else as nightfall drew near.
Venus – lovely and lantern-bright, out-shining
Every other dancer on the floor; Jupiter – fainter
By far but still beaming with a noble light,
Stalking his pretty planetary prey…

The first time I saw them they were still
A third-of-the-sky apart,
But each blazing Turner sunset brought them closer yet,
Each day’s end a little better-placed to gaze
Upon each other’s radiant face,
And a million Earthbound eyes looked on, amazed
To see two such fine celestial jewels
Coming together in the sky.
Some sought out a sheltered, grassy place
Of peace and dark to watch the twin sparks’
Close approach in groups; others stood alone
In overgrown gardens or on concrete roofs,
Marvelling at the view from their light-polluted
Homes, wondering what they would see if only
They could escape the Bright and find a place
Without the blinding security lights’ flares
And streetlights’ orange glare…

Of course, I missed the breathless climax
Of their brief encounter. For half a dozen days
Either side of that ringed-in-red date
My sky was thick with cloud fat and foul,
A star- and planet-hiding shroud draped o’er
The Auld Grey Town that was not pulled away
Until the planet parade had passed by,
And the next time I looked to the west
The best view had come and gone:
Unseen by me, Venus and Jupiter had chastely
Touched fingers then parted, leaving
The lovesick gas giant fading, falling
Forlornly towards the rooftops and trees
While the Goddess of Love soared higher,
Growing ever-brighter as she climbed…

Cheated? Yes. But I have fine memories
Of some magical nights, and a hundred photographs,
Taken from the shores of moonlit, duck-dotted lakes
And crumbling castle walls. Sometimes in company,
More usually alone I stood and watched those distant
Worlds waltzing across the western sky,
My so-often-now world weary eyes
Suddenly wide again with wonder at the beauty of it all,
Listening to them calling “Look at us! See
How gloriously we shine above your sleepy little town…!”

…Far apart now, their dusky dalliance a thing of the past,
Venus and Jupiter are just bright stars once more;
The night sky’s restless showbiz spotlight has swept on,
Picking out Saturn, Mars and a waning Moon,
The Great Conjunction relegated
To Celestial Celebrity Has Been history.

Which is how it should be.

The Earth turns, and turns, and turns, setting a universe
Of stars and planets wheeling around pale Polaris,
Lovely and sentinel-still,
While the Milky Way floats serenely
Through her snow-globe of glitter-flake galaxies,
The prickling breeze of a billion billion suns’ solar winds
Blowing on the faces of the few evolved apes
Brave enough to lift their eyes from the grey
Landscapes of their everyday lives and catch
A fleeting glimpse of beauty in the Great Beyond…

© Stuart Atkinson 2012

Weekly SkyWatcher’s Forecast: March 5-11, 2012

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Greetings, fellow SkyWatchers! Our week begins with the dance of the planets and a gathering of asteroids. Keep watching as Mars makes its closest approach of the year – while Venus and Jupiter continue to get nearer. Celebrate the Full Worm Moon, interesting stars and beautful galaxies and clusters! Dust off those binoculars and telescopes and meet me in the backyard, because… Here’s what’s up!

Monday, March 5 – Today is the birthday of Gerardus Mercator, famed mapmaker, who started his life in 1512. Mercator’s time was a rough one for astronomy, but despite a prison sentence and the threat of torture and death for his “beliefs,” he went on to design a celestial globe in the year 1551.

Need a little celestial action of your own? Then be outside at twilight with a clear horizon to catch Mercury! joining the show with Venus and Jupiter. The swift inner planet will make a brief appearance on the western skyline just after the Sun dips below the horizon. To add to the fun, the planet Uranus is situated about 5 degrees to its southwest and asteroid Vesta is about 5 degrees south/southwest. More? Then know that asteroid Ceres is also here – just around 20 degrees to Mercury’s southeast. While the asteroids and Uranus really aren’t observable, it’s still fun to know they’re “hanging around” in the same small space!

Tonight we’ll ignore the Moon and use both Sirius and Beta Monocerotis as our guides to have a look at one fantastic galactic cluster for any optical aid – M50 (Right Ascension: 7 : 03.2 – Declination: -08 : 20). Hop about a fistwidth east-southeast of Beta, or northeast of Sirius…and be prepared!

Perhaps discovered as early as 1711 by G. D. Cassini, it was relocated by Messier in 1772 and confirmed by J. E. Bode in 1774. Containing perhaps as many as 200 members, this colorful old cluster resides almost 3000 light-years away. The light of the stars you are looking at tonight left this cluster at a time when iron was first being smelted and used in tools. The Mayan culture was just beginning to develop, while the Hebrews and Phoenicians were creating an alphabet. Do you wonder if it looked the same then as it does now? In binoculars you will see an almost heart-shaped collection of stars, while telescopes will begin to resolve out color and many fainter members – with a very notable red one in its midst. Enjoy this worthy cluster and make a note that you’ve captured another Messier object!

Now, point your telescope towards Mars! This universal date marks the closest approach of Mars and Earth (0.6737 AU = 100.78 million km). While it’s a far cry from being the much celebrated “size of the Moon”, Mars currently has an apparent diameter of 13.89″. This will make for some mighty fine observing, so be sure to check for a lot a great surface details!

Tuesday, March 6 – If you get a chance to see sunshine today, then celebrate the birthday of Joseph Fraunhofer, who was born in 1787. As a German scientist, Fraunhofer was truly a “trailblazer” in terms of modern astronomy. His field? Spectroscopy! After having served his apprenticeship as a lens and mirror maker, Fraunhofer went on to develop scientific instruments, specializing in applied optics. While designing the achromatic objective lens for the telescope, he was watching the spectrum of solar light passing through a thin slit and saw the dark lines which make up the “rainbow bar code.” Fraunhofer knew that some of these lines could be used as a wavelength standard so he began measuring. The most prominent of the lines he labeled with letters that are still in use. His skill in optics, mathematics and physics led Fraunhofer to design and build the very first diffraction grating which was capable of measuring the wavelengths of specific colors and dark lines in the solar spectrum. Did his telescope designs succeed? Of course! His work with the achromatic objective lens is the design still used in modern telescopes!

In 1986, the first of eight consecutive days of flybys began as VEGA 1 and Giotto became the very first spacecraft to reach Halley’s Comet. Tonight let’s just fly by the Moon and have a look at Theta Aurigae. 2.7 magnitude Theta is a four star system ranging in magnitudes from 2.7 to 10.7. The brightest companion – Theta B – is magnitude 7.2 and is separated from the primary by slightly more than 3 arc seconds. Remember that this is what is known as a “disparate double” and look for the two fainter members well away from the primary.

Wednesday, March 7 – Today the only child of William Herschel (the discoverer of Uranus) was born in 1792 – John Herschel. He became the first astronomer to thoroughly survey the southern hemisphere’s sky, and he was discoverer of photographic fixer. Also born on this day, but in 1837, was Henry Draper – the man who made the first photograph of a stellar spectrum.

Tonight the great Grimaldi, found in the central region of the Moon near the terminator is the best lunar feature for binoculars. If you would like to see how well you have mastered your telescopic skills, then let’s start there. About one Grimaldi length south, you’ll see a narrow black ellipse with a bright rim. This is Rocca. Go the same distance again (and a bit east) to spot a small, shallow crater with a dark floor. This is Cruger, and its lava-filled interior is very similar to another study – Billy. Now look between them. Can you see a couple of tiny dark markings? Believe it or not, this is called Mare Aestatis. It’s not even large enough to be considered a medium-sized crater, but is a mare!

Take the time tonight to have a look at Delta Monocerotis with binoculars. Although it is not a difficult double star, it is faint enough to require some optical aid. If you are using a telescope, hop to Epsilon. It’s a lovely yellow and blue system that’s perfect for small apertures.

Thursday, March 8 – On this day in 1977, the NASA airborne occultation observatory made a unique discovery – Uranus had rings!

Tonight we’ll play ring around the Full Moon. In many cultures, it is known as the “Worm Moon.” As ground temperatures begin to warm and produce a thaw in the northern hemisphere, earthworms return and encourage the return of robins. For the Indians of the far north, this was also considered the “Crow Moon.” The return of the black bird signaled the end of winter. Sometimes it has been called the “Crust Moon” because warmer temperatures melt existing snow during the day, leaving it to freeze at night. Perhaps you may have also heard it referred to as the “Sap Moon.” This marks the time of tapping maple trees to make syrup. To early American settlers, it was called the “Lenten Moon” and was considered to be the last full Moon of winter. For those of us in northern climes, let’s hope so!

Friday, March 9 – Today is the anniversary of the Sputnik 9 launch in 1966 which carried a dog named Chernushka (Blackie). Also today we recognize the birth of David Fabricius. Born in 1564, Fabricus was the discoverer of the first variable star – Mira. Tonight let’s visit with an unusual variable star as we look at Beta Canis Majoris – better known as Murzim.

Located about three fingerwidths west-southwest of Sirius, Beta is a member of a group of stars known as quasi-Cepheids – stars which have very short term and small brightness changes. First noted in 1928, Beta changes no more than .03 in magnitude, and its spectral lines will widen in cycles longer than those of its pulsations.

When you’ve had a look at Beta, hop another fingerwidth west-southwest for open cluster NGC 2204 (Right Ascension: 6 : 15.7 – Declination: -18 : 39). Chances are, this small collection of stars was discovered by Caroline Herschel in 1783, but it was added to William’s list. This challenging object is a tough call for even large binoculars and small telescopes, since only around a handful of its dim members can be resolved. To the larger scope, a small round concentration can be seen, making this Herschel study one of the more challenging. While it might not seem like it’s worth the trouble, this is one of the oldest of galactic clusters residing in the halo and has been a study for “blue straggler” stars.

Saturday, March 10 – Since this is a weekend night and we’ve a short time before Moonrise, why not break out the big telescope and do a little galaxy hopping in the region south of Beta Canis Majoris?

Our first mark will be NGC 2207 – a 12.3 magnitude pair of interacting galaxies. Located some 114 million light-years away, this pair is locked in a gravitational tug of war. The larger of the pair is NGC 2207 (Right Ascension: 6 : 16.4 – Declination: -21 : 22), and it is estimated the encounter began with the Milky Way-sized IC 2163 about 40 million years ago. Like the M81 and M82 pair, NGC 2207 will cannibalize the smaller galaxy – yet the true space between the stars is so far apart that actual collisions may never occur. While our eyes may never see as grandly as a photograph, a mid-sized telescope will make out the signature of two galactic cores with intertwining material. Enjoy this great pair!

Now shift further southeast for NGC 2223 (Right Ascension: 6 : 24.6 – Declination: -22 : 50). Slightly fainter and smaller than the previous pair, this round, low surface brightness galaxy shows a slightly brighter nucleus area and a small star caught on its southern edge. While it seems a bit more boring, it did have a supernova event as recently as 1993!

Sunday, March 11 – Tonight let’s return to Canis Major with binoculars and have a look at Omicron 1, the western-most star in the central Omicron pair. While this bright, colorful gathering of stars is not a true cluster, it is certainly an interesting group.

For larger binoculars and telescopes, hop on to Tau northeast of Delta and the open cluster NGC 2362 (Right Ascension: 7: 18.8 – Declination: -24 : 5). At a distance of about 4600 light-years, this rich little cluster contains about 40 members and is one of the youngest of all known star clusters. Many of the stars you can resolve have not even reached main sequence yet! Still gathering themselves together, it is estimated this stellar collection is less than a million years old. Its central star, Tau, is believed to be a true cluster member and one of the most luminous stars known. Put as much magnification on this one as skies will allow – it’s a beauty!

Until next week? Dreams really do come true when you keep on reaching for the stars!

If you enjoy this weekly observing column, then you’d love the fully illustrated The Night Sky Companion 2012. It’s available in both Kindle and soft cover formats!