The Moon and Two Planets in the Evening Sky

Yesterday (12 May 2021) provided an opportunity to view the thin crescent Moon very close to the planet Venus. Also visible in the evening twilight sky was Mercury higher above the pair.

For a few months each year, it is possible to be located so that the setting of the 1-day old crescent Moon aligns along the length of Upper Lake Mary. This allows for a long fetch of water in which to get reflections of the Moon and planets. Of course, this only works if it is not windy and spring is our windy season. So it was very nice to have both clear skies and very light winds for this event.

Moon, Venus, and Mercury in the evening sky.
Moon, Venus, and Mercury in the evening sky.

In the above image the crescent Moon is just slightly above and to the left of Venus. Near the top center of the image is Mercury. Venus is still rising higher in the sky each day while Mercury is dropping lower. Later this month they will pass by each other with ~0.4° of separation. That should be another interesting event to photograph.

The Moon and Venus during evening twilight.
The Moon and Venus during evening twilight.

Two days earlier there will be a total Lunar eclipse taking place in the pre-dawn hours.

A Thin Crescent Moon Reflected in the Lake

Although it’s fun to photograph the Full Moon, I actually prefer photographing a thin crescent Moon, usually just a day or two after the New Moon. The thin crescent is brightly lit while the remainder is softly lit by light reflected by Earth, hence known as Earthshine. It’s also known as DaVinci Glow. As well, the Moon does not overwhelm the night sky so that stars can also be in the photograph.

A wide-angle view showing the crescent Moon just above the horizon with Venus shining brightly above. The stars of Orion, Pleiades, and Hyades are also visible.
A wide-angle view showing the crescent Moon just above the horizon with Venus shining brightly above. The stars of Orion, Pleiades, and Hyades are also visible.

During late Spring and into early Summer the crescent Moon sets in the west-northwest and this makes it a good target for shooting at Upper Lake Mary. The long and narrow lake is aligned WNW–ESE so that the Moon casts a brilliant reflection that can run the length of the lake.

I’ve shot this several times over the last few years but never tire of it. All it requires is enough of a gap in the clouds for the Moon to shine and for light winds so that the lake surface is relatively smooth.

A zoomed-in view of the crescent Moon with reflection on Lake Mary.
A zoomed-in view of the crescent Moon with reflection on Lake Mary.
As the Moon settles closer to the horizon a thin veil of high clouds adds some interesting texture to the scene.
As the Moon settles closer to the horizon a thin veil of high clouds adds some interesting texture to the scene.

A Late Winter Storm

A winter storm brought snow, clouds, and fog to some of my favorite photographic locations. The early morning sun lights up a band of clouds that encircles the San Francisco Peak. Below the peaks, fog lies in the low areas of both Upper and Lower Lake Mary.

Fog and clouds wrap around the San Francisco Peaks.
Fog and clouds wrap around the San Francisco Peaks.

A smaller area of fog sits in the corner of the Mormon Lake basin and partially obscures some of the old ranch buildings.

Fog and ranch buildings near Mormon Lake.
Fog and ranch buildings near Mormon Lake.
Reflections.
Reflections.

Finally, a small patch of grass pokes up from the still water of Lake Mary while fog blurs the background.

The non-Monsoon of 2019

Beams of light from the setting sun illuminate the landscape near Sedona.

It’s been an unusual monsoon season across Arizona this year. After both a wet winter and wet spring—with above normal precipitation amounts all the way into the month of May—things went dry. The North American Monsoon started late this year with the first significant rainfall not arriving until the second half of July. This was unfortunate as the dryness partially contributed to a very damaging wildfire (Museum Fire) burning across portions of the San Francisco Peaks.

Just a few days later, the rains finally arrived. And, then, they stopped again. And it has been that way much of this monsoon season. A few days of rain, then a week or more of dry weather. A normal pattern would have rain falling perhaps four days out of seven for a two-month period. Folks around here have dubbed this monsoon the “nonsoon”.

And, of course, with the lack of moisture and thunderstorms opportunities for photographing storms, heavy rain, lightning, and sunsets has been a challenge. But it only takes one great photograph to make it a successful season. I’m still trying to get that photograph.

Here are some of the more interesting photographs from this “nonsoon monsoon” season.

The Museum Fire burns in the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff.
The Museum Fire burns in the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff.
A thunderstorm develops above the San Francisco Peaks as seen from the South Rim of Grand Canyon.
A thunderstorm develops above the San Francisco Peaks as seen from the South Rim of Grand Canyon.
Convection develops over the North Rim of Grand Canyon.
Convection develops over the North Rim of Grand Canyon.
Convection is reflected in the waters of Marshall Lake.
Convection is reflected in the waters of Marshall Lake.
A growing thunderstorm is reflected in Marshall Lake.
A growing thunderstorm is reflected in Marshall Lake.
The sun sets over Wupatki National Monument.
The sun sets over Wupatki National Monument.
Beams of light from the setting sun illuminate the landscape near Sedona.
Beams of light from the setting sun illuminate the landscape near Sedona.
Lightning strikes in the distance behind Upper Lake Mary.
Lightning strikes in the distance behind Upper Lake Mary.
Lightning on the North Rim of Grand Canyon.
Lightning on the North Rim of Grand Canyon.
Twilight lightning in Wupatki National Monument.
Twilight lightning in Wupatki National Monument.
Lightning strikes near the confluence of Grand Canyon and Little Colorado River.
Lightning strikes near the confluence of Grand Canyon and Little Colorado River.

Lightning-caused Wildfires

And so it begins. The North American Monsoon has begun with many thunderstorms but not much rain. As a result, lightning-sparked wildfires are a possibility.

Just by chance, I was heading out towards Mormon Lake this morning to capture images of the building thunderstorms over the San Francisco Peaks. I had noticed that the early buildups had some interesting structure—a combination of convective vertical growth as well as some laminar wave clouds.

As I drove towards Upper Lake Mary I saw a small plume of smoke from a wildfire. Moments later, I spotted a helicopter dropping water on the fire.

Fortunately, the fire was a very short distance from the lake allowing multiple passes in quick succession.

Helicopter lifting water bucket from Lake Mary.
Helicopter lifting water bucket from Lake Mary.
Helicopter approaching Lake Mary to refill bucket.
Helicopter approaching Lake Mary to refill bucket.

The recent increase in moisture and a slight cooling of temperatures that we’ve experienced over the past few days will result in good chances of quickly containing this wildfire.

Ligntning map for 07 July 2018.
Ligntning map for 07 July 2018.

The lightning map for 07 July 2018 shows plenty of lightning across the higher terrain—so it’s likely this fire was caused by lightning.