Heads Up (Literally!)

Over at A Sky Full of Stars, Tavi and Rob have a post about tonight’s ‘sunset treats’.  Head on over and read up on how to catch Mercury next to the Pleiades, the Hyades, Vesta and Orion Nebula, and four open clusters (M35, M36, M37 and M38)  next to the crecent moon!

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The Moon and Venus on April 22, 2009

Lots of people are coming here with the search term “bright star next to the moon”.  Well this morning it was Venus (again).  In fact, if you were in the right place at the right time, you saw an occultation of Venus by the moon!  Check out the link below to an article on Universe Today with an absolutely awesome beautiful picture from Ted Judah in Petaluma, California.

The Moon and Venus on April 22, 2009. Credit: Ted Judah | Universe Today.

UPDATE:  More pictures! Look here, and here too!

UPDATE 2: More here!

UPDATE 3: A video of the occultation on  Sky This Week!!!

Thanks, Venus

The planet of Venus has caused a spike in traffic to this blog, mostly by people trying to find out what that bright star next to the Moon is.

Yes, it’s Venus.  Yes, you really can see it in the day if you know where to look.

Here’s the skinny: Find the moon (it will be about halfway across the sky from the Sun along the ecliptic).  Block the Sun with one hand, and with your other hand hold up two fingers at arms length.   That’s about the distance that Venus will appear below and to the right of the Moon.   Be patient, and let your eyes adjust.

Woop, there it is…

Observation Log: 20081229 17:30

Oh. My. Lord.

I grabbed my Christmas present from the family, a pair of 8×56 Celestron Skymaster binoculars, and went out specifically to view the conjunction.

Wow.  Just… wow.  I had mostly clear skies, and the seeing wasn’t great due to some high altitude moisture.  Venus had a ring around it, it was so bright, and  I could pick out Jupiter with no problem.  Mercury couldn’t be seen at first except with the binoculars, but after about 20 minutes I could just make it out without them.

With the binocs, even against the skyglow, I could see 2 of the galilean moons.   I could see visible discs on all three planets (well, a half-disk on Venus).

All three of the planets were set against the 5% crescent moon, and the four objects were just beautiful together.  Every time I glanced up, until the moon set over the hills,  the moon and Venus reminded me of a parachute and payload, falling up through the sky.  I think it reminded me of the picture of the Phoenix lander that Phil Plait picked as his top picture of 2008.  That’s the one that the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter snapped with the HIRISE camera while Phoenix was on the way down.

If you missed it tonight, you have two more chances.  On Tuesday December 30, the moon will be slightly larger and higher in the sky, closer to Venus.  On Wednesday December 31, the moon will be just above Venus, and Jupiter and Mercury will be about 1.3 degrees apart.   This Week’s Sky at a Glance has some graphics of what you should be looking for.

UPDATE: Phil Plait also has an entry on his blog about the conjunction.

UPDATE 2: Tavi Greiner has photos here, here and here.

A moon, and four planets

If you’re into finding planets, a trio of naked-eye visible planets will bracket the waxing crescent moon tonight  ( December 29, 2008 ).   If you have clear skies tonight it’s definitely worth a trip outside just as the sun sets.

Moon and Four Planets

Moon and Four Planets

I’ve set up Stellarium for about a half-hour after Sunset (click the image for a larger version).   The moon is shown just below center of the picture, with Jupiter and Mercury below and to the right, and Venus and Neptune above and to the left.

Venus will be the easiest to spot, as it is almost Mag -5.   Jupiter ( Mag -1.88)  and Mercury (Mag 0.66)  will be harder to see, both because they are fainter and because they are immersed in the sunset glow.   However, if you have a good view of the western horizon you should have a good chance of seeing both.  Binoculars will enhance the view considerably.

Neptune is next to Venus, but you have no chance of seeing the Mag 7.95 planet of the Sea God unless you are using a scope, and even with a scope it’s going to be tough to spot against the sunset.

Also shown is the asteroid Juno, but buried in the sunset you have almost zero chance of seeing this tiny ( 300km ) object, even with a telescope.

Luna and Jupiter

Somebody better tell Juno to watch out, Luna’s going after her man… er… God.

I walked out this evening to see a pretty conjunction between the full moon (Luna to the Romans) and the planet Jupiter.  Pretty much the only thing visible in the southern sky, as the full moon was washing out everything else in my suburban neighborhood.

I tried to take a picture, but while I could get the moon pretty well, a high haze layer made Jupiter an undistinguished blob instead of the sharp point of light it appeared as to my eyes.