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.

Moon-Venus Conjunction

A few days ago, the thin crescent Moon passed close to the planet Venus in the evening twilight sky. Conjunctions such as this repeat at roughly one-month intervals so this is not a rare occurrence—just a beautiful one.

Conjunction of Venus and the Moon.
Conjunction of Venus and the Moon.

The crescent Moon is ~2.4% illuminated by the direct light of the Sun; the remainder of the Moon is lit by Earthshine which is bright enough to show detail on the shadowed face of the Moon. Leonardo da Vinci explained the phenomenon in the early 16th century when he realized that both Earth and the Moon reflect sunlight at the same time. Light is reflected from Earth to the Moon and back to Earth as earthshine.

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.