Four Planets in the Morning Sky

For several weeks the planets Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn have been visible in the same portion of the morning sky. These are all bright and easily visible even during twilight hours. Nestled in between these bright planets lies the minor planet Pluto.

Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and Pluto.
Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and Pluto.
Stellarium star chart showing positions of the planets in the morning sky.
Stellarium star chart showing positions of the planets in the morning sky.

So I thought it would be interesting to photograph Pluto. Pluto is much too faint (currently Mag. 14.3) for me to find with my camera/lens setup. However, Pluto and Mars passed very close to each other (~10 arc minutes, or less than the diameter of the Moon) on 23 March 2020 making it easier to find one based on the location of the other. Clouds forced me to shoot this image a day later on 24 March 2020, when they were farther apart.

Pluto and Mars.
Pluto and Mars.
Pluto.
Pluto.
Stellarium chart showing Pluto and neighboring stars.
Stellarium chart showing Pluto and neighboring stars.

I used Stellarium as a guide to hopping from one star to another—comparing the photographs with Stellarium star charts—until I finally located Pluto. As a magnitude 14.3 object, this was near the limit of what could be resolved with my Nikon 180mm AI-s ƒ/2.8 lens shot wide open.

Images were shot at ƒ/2.8, ISO 1600, and 30s. The best images were stacked to reduce noise. Post processing included large values of Unsharpen Mask to help sharpen the dimmest stars and Pluto—with the undesired side effect of creating halos around the brighter stars.

Check the video to see how much Mars moves in just 15 minutes.

I was able to capture four planets in the morning sky. In the previous post, I was able to capture four planets in the evening sky. It was a challengin project that I wanted to do and have now completed.

Maybe I should get a telescope.

Starlink cluster.
Starlink cluster.

Oh, one final point. Once again I was photo-bombed by a cluster of Starlink satellites. Sadly, the day is coming soon when night photography will be very difficult because of these satellites.

Conjunction of Venus and Jupiter

The planet Venus has been quickly rising higher in the sky each evening so that it approached Jupiter in a planetary conjunction.

Venus and Jupiter in November 2019.
Venus and Jupiter in November 2019.

Here are the planets Jupiter and Venus on the evenings of 22 November, 23 November, and 24 November—the evening of closest approach. In this 3-image composite Jupiter is held fixed and the daily motion of Venus is shown relative to the planet Jupiter.

The next image shows the two planets and their reflections in the waters of Lower Lake Mary.

Venus and Jupiter and their reflections in November 2019.
Venus and Jupiter and their reflections in November 2019.

Here is another example of Venus and Jupiter except this was in the morning twilight and the crescent Moon was also present. And then there was this triple planetary conjunction of Mercury, Venus, and Jupiter in 2013.

Bright Objects in the Sky

The past few days have offered several opportunities for photographing objects in the sky.

Mercury and Venus in evening twilight.
Mercury and Venus in evening twilight.

Mercury (Magnitude –0.2) and Venus (Magnitude –3.9) are very low in the evening twilight right now and a bit difficult to see with the unaided eye—but a camera can do a better job at picking out the small but bright planets. The two planets are separated by about 7°.

Jupiter and the Moon in close proximity.
Jupiter and the Moon in close proximity.

At the same time, Jupiter (Magnitude –2.0) and the Moon made a close pass last night with about 2.5° of separation. These, of course, were much easier to see.

ISS passes in front of the Sun.
ISS passes in front of the Sun.

And, a few days ago, the International Space Station (ISS) flew in front of the Sun as seen from my house. I didn’t even have to travel—just set up the camera in the driveway. The entire flyby takes less than one second. Warning! A proper solar filter is required. I use a filter made by Kendrick Astro Instruments.

Four Planets and the Moon

This week the waning moon joined four planets in the eastern sky. Lowest to the horizon was Mercury with Saturn just above. The moon was located well above that pair. And high in the sky were Mars and Jupiter.

Earlier this month on 07 January 2018, Mars and Jupiter were in conjunction. The pair was only 0.25 degrees apart in the sky at its closest. By comparison, the full moon is approximately 0.50 degrees. And, then, on 13 January 2018, Mercury and Saturn were in conjunction—but not quite as close as the Mars-Jupiter conjunction.

On the 14th and 15th, the Moon was just above and just below the pair of Mercury and Saturn.

The waning crescent moon (~5% illuminated) sits above the planetary pair of Mercury and Saturn.
The waning crescent moon (~5% illuminated) sits above the planetary pair of Mercury and Saturn.
A wider view shows all four planets (Mercury and Saturn low; Mars and Jupiter high) plus the moon.
A wider view shows all four planets (Mercury and Saturn low; Mars and Jupiter high) plus the moon.

I had planned to photograph on both days but clouds intervened. All I got was this thin crescent Moon (~2% illuminated) that was visible for only a few minutes before it was obscured by clouds.

A thin crescent moon is visible for just a moment after moonrise.
A thin crescent moon is visible for just a moment after moonrise.

Coming up: at the end of the month there will be a total lunar eclipse that will be visible in the pre-dawn hours of the western states. I hope the skies are clear.

 

 

Jupiter and Venus Conjunction—and the Moon

Earlier this week (13 November 2017) there was an opportunity to view a conjunction of the planets Venus and Jupiter in the pre-dawn sky. Venus is the brightest planet in the sky while Jupiter is the second brightest (and, of course, the largest). Pairings of these two planets in either the morning or evening sky are always an amazing sight. At closest approach, the distance separating the two planets was less than the diameter of the full moon. Jupiter was rising a bit higher each morning while Venus was dropping closer to the horizon.

Conjunction of Venus and Jupiter in the morning sky.
Conjunction of Venus and Jupiter in the morning sky.

For three mornings I shot photos of the morning sky. I then took the images from each day and created a layered image. Next, I shifted each image up/down, left/right until the planet Jupiter lined up. The result was that the composite contains a single image of Jupiter along with three images of Venus. This makes it easy to see how the two planets were shifting relative to each other over the course of three days.

Moon, Jupiter, and Venus in the morning sky.
Moon, Jupiter, and Venus in the morning sky.

But the show wasn’t over, yet. The waning moon was dropping lower in the sky each morning and on 16 November was located just above the pair of planets. About 4% of the moon is directly illuminated by the sun; the remainder is illuminated by Earthshine.

The photos were taken from Mars Hill where Lowell Observatory is located and look over the city of Flagstaff, Arizona, the worlds first International Dark Sky City.

Other planetary conjunctions of Venus and Jupiter have appeared on these pages before (26 May 2013; 18 August 2014).