Four Planets and the Crescent Moon in the Morning Sky

There are currently four planets easily visible in the morning sky: Jupiter, Venus, Mars, and Saturn. Prevously they had been fairly evenly spaced and in a line sloping upward from the east to southeast. Now, however, Venus is quickly moving lower in the sky towards Jupiter and they will pass by each other in a few days. In the meantime, the crescent Moon joined the planetary quartet this week.

Four planets and the Moon (0453 MST 28 April 2022).
Four planets and the Moon (0453 MST 28 April 2022).
Four planets and the Moon with annotations (0453 MST 28 April 2022).
Four planets and the Moon with annotations (0453 MST 28 April 2022).
Screen shot from Stellarium showing the four planets and the FOV from a 24mm lens.
Screen shot from Stellarium showing the four planets and the FOV from a 24mm lens.

Here is an image from 0453 MST 28 April 2022. The Moon was partially obscured by smoke low on the horizon from western wildfires. Also shown is a screen shot from Stellarium showing the four planets and Moon with an overlay of the field of view from a 24mm lens.

Four Planets in the Morning Sky

There are currently four planets easily visible in the morning sky: Jupiter, Venus, Mars, and Saturn. For a few days they have been fairly evenly spaced and in a line sloping upward from the east to southeast. Next week the slim crescent Moon will join them but the spacing will be a bit different.

Four planets in the eastern sky before dawn.
Four planets in the eastern sky before dawn.

Here is a shot from about 0502 MST 21 April 2022. Twilight was already brightening the horizon so perhaps I should have been there a half hour earlier. Also shown is a screen shot from Stellarium showing the four planets with an overlay of the field of view from a 24mm lens.

Screen shot from Stellarium showing the four planets and the FOV from a 24mm lens.
Screen shot from Stellarium showing the four planets and the FOV from a 24mm lens.

This was taken from the “City Overlook at Lowell Observatory” which is really just a small, designated pulloff of the road to the observatory. It’s nice to know that the City recognizes the value of this location and is working to preserve it.

City Overlook at Lowell Observatory.
City Overlook at Lowell Observatory.

 

Photographing the Milky Way and Cathedral Rock

We are entering Milky Way season—generally considered to be March through September in the northern hemisphere. In mid-March the Milky Way does not rise until well after midnight and the Galactic Center of the Milky Way is only about 25° degrees above the horizon by astronomical twilight.

The Milky Way and Galactic Center rise above Cathedral Rock. Venus and Mars are also visible just above the horizon and to the left of Cathedral Rock.
The Milky Way and Galactic Center rise above Cathedral Rock. Venus and Mars are also visible just above the horizon and to the left of Cathedral Rock.

Accompanying the Milky Way was the waxing crescent Moon which was 77% illuminated on the morning of 13 March 2022. The Moon would set around 0413 MST and twilight did not start until 0516 MST.

The Milky Way is lower in the sky and is combined with a foreground image containing star reflections in the small pool of water.
The Milky Way is lower in the sky and is combined with a foreground image containing star reflections in the small pool of water.

What this means is that I could photograph the landscape with the Moon illuminating it and then an hour or so later capture the Milky Way after the Moon had set and the sky was very dark.

I arrived with bright moonlight illuminating Cathedral Rock. I positioned the camera so that I could get some star reflections in the small—very small—pool of water. I also shot images without the water—just expanses of undulating red rock with alternating patterns of light and shadow.

Having finished that part of the show I had to wait until the Moon was at least a few degrees below the horizon allowing the sky to become very dark.

The Galactic Center of the Milky was about 16° above the horizon at moonset—which was just barely above the high point of Cathedral Rock. That wasn’t really the shot I wanted so I waited until it got higher.

Just before and after astronomical twilight the Galactic Center had risen to about 25° above the horizon. I shot a few images before twilight began to wash out the stars in the eastern sky. As a bonus, I was also able to capture the planets Venus and Mars just above the horizon.

The foreground images were shot at ISO 800, ƒ/5.6 and ƒ/8, and 120 seconds exposure with LENR (long exposure noise reduction) turned on. The star images were shot at ISO 800, ƒ/5.6, and 300 seconds exposure with LENR. Star images were taken with the camera mounted on an iOptron SkyTracker mount.

Conjunction of Mars and Uranus

The planets Mars and Uranus will at their closest in the evening sky on 20 January 2021. Unfortunately, the Moon will also be very close to these two planets which could make it difficult to see Uranus. Mars, however, is bright enough to be easily viewed even with the Moon. Currently, Mars has a magnitude of 0.16 while Uranus is considerably dimmer at magnitude 5.76 — making Mars ~175 times brighter than Uranus.

Mars and Uranus in the evening sky
Mars and Uranus in the evening sky

I chose to shoot the two planets a few days early to avoid any issues with the Moon and clouds from an approaching winter storm. Besides, the appearance a few days either side of the date of conjunction would not look too much different.

 

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 f/2.8 lens shot wide open.

Images were shot at f/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 challenging 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.