Conjunction of Venus and Mars

As mentioned in the previous post, the planets Venus and Mercury passed very close to each other in the evening twilight sky a few nights ago. In fact, this conjuction is the closest conjunction of these two planets until 2033. I chose to photograph the two planets the night before closest approach as I was interested in getting a bit of separation of the two in both the sky and their reflections in the water.

Venus and Mercury in evening twilight (2025 MST 27 May 2021).
Venus and Mercury in evening twilight (2025 MST 27 May 2021).
Venus and Mercury in evening twilight (2037 MST 27 May 2021).
Venus and Mercury in evening twilight (2037 MST 27 May 2021).

The first image was taken at 2025 MST 27 May 2021 with an 85mm focal length. The second image was taken a short time later at 2035 MST with a focal length of 120mm.

In the first image, there is a very nice and long reflection of Venus in the water; the reflection of Mercury is also present but is faint and diffuse. In the second image, the planets were just a few minutes away from dropping below the ridge to the northwest. In this image, the reflections of both planets are easily seen.

The weather cooperated nicely with light winds allowing reflections on the smooth water of Upper Lake Mary.

 

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.

Mercury, Jupiter, and Saturn in the Evening Sky

A few weeks ago Jupiter and Saturn passed very close to each other during the Great Conjunction of 2020. Jupiter and Saturn are now pulling away from each other and are lower in the southwestern sky—but they have been joined by Mercury resulting in a planetary triplet viewable in the twilight.

Mercury, Jupiter, and Saturn in the evening sky.
Mercury, Jupiter, and Saturn in the evening sky.

This is a composite of three images taken over successive nights (09–11 January 2021) that shows the relative motions of the planets Mercury, Jupiter, and Saturn in the southwestern sky. The images have been aligned using Saturn as an anchor point.

Mercury, Jupiter, and Saturn on 09 January 2021.
Mercury, Jupiter, and Saturn on 09 January 2021.

From this composite, one sees small daily motions of Jupiter as it continues to move eastward away from Saturn—which had their Great Conjunction on 21 December 2020. Mercury exhibits large daily eastward motions as it races toward its greatest eastward elongation on 24 January 2021.

Objects in the Night and Twilight Sky—February 2020

The past few weeks have offered numerous opportunities for photographing objects in the twilight and night sky.

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

Above is a photograph showing the planets Venus (visible near the top of the image) and Mercury (located just below the center of the image). The glow of evening twilight on the horizon is reflected in the shallow waters of Mormon Lake.

Four planets and an asteroid.
Four planets and an asteroid.

Taken later on the same evening is a photograph showing four planets and an asteroid in a single frame. This was taken with a 24mm focal length lens to capture these solar system objects (SSO). I did this as a fun test to see if a wide-angle lens was able to capture these dim and distant SSOs. From top to bottom are the asteroid Vesta, Uranus, Venus, Neptune, and Mercury.

Zoomed-in crops (below) show the dimmer objects that are in the image above.

Zoomed in crops showing Vesta, Uranus, and Neptune.
Zoomed in crops showing Vesta, Uranus, and Neptune.

Before leaving that night I did a final wide-angle shot of the southeastern sky which included the constellation Orion as well as a portion of the winter Milky Way.

Wide-angle view of Orion and Milky Way.
Wide-angle view of Orion and Milky Way.
Pleiades star cluster.
Pleiades star cluster.

The following night I was out again to test my recently purchased Nikon 180mm ƒ/2.8 ED AIS manual focus lens. A few previous tests have shown that star images are pretty good at an aperture of ƒ/2.8 but much better at ƒ/4. At ƒ/2.8 there is just a hint of star spikes; at ƒ/4 they are quite prominent. This is a stacked sequence of images of the Pleiades star cluster. Image stacking was done with Starry Sky Stacker; histogram stretching was done with rnc-color-stretch.

Occultation of Mars.
Occultation of Mars.

On 18 February there was a Lunar occultation of the planet Mars. I had planned to get up early and drive to a dark location but an alarm failure meant I barely had time to get up and set up the gear on the rear deck of the house to start the sequence. Luckily, Flagstaff is a Dark Sky City and it was dark enough to get the shots. This is a sequence from just a few minutes before the Moon moved in front of Mars followed by a longer sequence after it reappeared.

Comet C/2019 Y4 (ATLAS)
Comet C/2019 Y4 (ATLAS)

Finally, Comet C/2019 Y4 (ATLAS) is in the northern sky making it an easy target—except that it is still very dim with a magnitude of about +12 at the time of this image. The still image is a stack of 49 images each 120 seconds duration at ISO 1600, 180mm, and ƒ/2.8. As noted above this lens is pretty good at ƒ/2.8 but better at ƒ/4. Because the comet is so dim I wanted the maximum light gathering ability so settled for an aperture of ƒ/2.8. Also in the image is M97 (“Owl Nebula”) and M108 (“Surfboard Galaxy”). The star Merak is part of the “Big Dipper.”

Also, there is an animation—made from the same images—showing the movement of the comet over a period of just under 2 hours.

Transit of Mercury — November 2019

The weather was perfect with clear skies and light winds in northern Arizona to photograph the transit of Mercury across the face of the Sun.

Transit of Mercury—11 November 2019
Transit of Mercury—11 November 2019

From Wikipedia: A transit of Mercury takes place when the planet Mercury passes directly (transits) between the Sun and Earth, becoming visible against the solar disk. During a transit, Mercury appears as a tiny black dot moving across the disk of the Sun.”

Mercury is small so it is difficult to photograph a transit without using a telescope or large telephoto lens. I photographed the transit using a (1) full-frame Nikon DSLR and a 70-300mm telephoto zoom lens, and (2) a Panasonic Lumix FZ150 “bridge camera” with a 600mm [equivalent] zoom. The Nikon takes vastly superior images; the Lumix has more zoom. And the better results came from the Lumix.

The photograph above shows the first image taken as the Sun had partially cleared the cliffs. Subsequent images were stacked and aligned on this image so that it shows a sequence of positions during the transit.

Transit of Mercury-09 May 2016.
Transit of Mercury-09 May 2016.

The last transit of Mercury was 09 May 2016; the next will be 13 November 2032. The image above is from the 2016 transit.

Transit of Venus--05June 2012.
Transit of Venus–05June 2012.

Transits of Venus are easier to capture because Venus is much larger than Mercury and also closer to Earth. The last two transits of Venus were 05 June 2012 and 08 June 2004. The next transits of Venus will not occur until 10–11 December 2117 and 8 December 2125. Above is an image of the 2012 transit with a bird also “transiting” the sun.