Bright Objects in the Morning Sky—December 2018

The other morning promised an interesting alignment of the planets Venus and Mercury, the waning crescent Moon (3.4% illuminated), and the bright star Spica (Alpha Vir, the brightest star in the constellation Virgo) in the morning sky. All that was required was clear skies.

Morning twilight with Mercury, Venus, Spica, and the Moon (0629 MST 05 December 2018).
Morning twilight with Mercury, Venus, Spica, and the Moon (0629 MST 05 December 2018).

Various weather models showed essentially the same forecast. There would be a band of high clouds to our northwest and another band to our southeast. Overhead it would be clear.

And the forecasts turned out correct. Below is a satellite image taken at ~1330 UTC (0630 MST) showing a nice clear gap in the clouds.

IR satellite image at 1332 UTC (0632 MST) showing the gap in the clouds across northern Arizona.
IR satellite image at 1332 UTC (0632 MST) showing the gap in the clouds across northern Arizona.
Model forecast for cloud cover. White/gray is cloud; black is clear.
Model forecast for cloud cover. White/gray is cloud; black is clear.

I drove to the overlook on Mars Hill, home of Lowell Observatory, in Flagstaff. It has very good views towards the east and is a location I have used many times over the years for astrophotography.

Venus and Mercury in Evening Twilight

Earlier this year in March the planets Venus and Mercury were close to each other in the evening sky. The crescent Moon also joined the two planets one evening (18 March 2018) resulting in a photogenic scene in the western twilight sky.

Mercury faded from view shortly thereafter and shifted into the morning sky. However, Mercury recently reached superior conjunction (06 June 2018) passing from the morning back into the evening sky. So, once again, Venus and Mercury share the western twilight sky. Mercury will continue to climb higher in the sky through mid July when the two planets will be at their closest approach.

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

A very nice animation of the positions of Venus and Mercury, as well as Jupiter and Saturn, can be seen the Shadow and Substance web site (or go directly to the Vimeo site).

Exceptionally clear skies resulted in these images of Venus high in the western sky with Mercury much lower and a bit more difficult to see in the bright evening twilight. Mercury should become easier to see over the next few weeks.

Bright Objects in the Night Sky—May 2018

The past two weeks have offered several opportunities for photographing the moon in the evening sky. Beginning on May 16, we had a crescent Moon with just 3.7% of the disk illuminated by the sun. During the months of May, June, and July, the thin crescent Moon lines up with the long axis of Upper Lake Mary. This results in nice reflections of the Moon on the waters of the lake—but only if there is little or no wind. The first two images were taken in the early evening with some reflections over portions of the lake. The image also shows the unlit part of the crescent Moon illuminated with Earthshine, also known as Da Vinci Glow. Yes, that Leonardo Da Vinci. Quite an amazing bit of scientific deduction on his part.

A thin crescent Moon above Lake Mary.
A thin crescent Moon above Lake Mary.
Crescent Moon with reflections on Lake Mary.
Crescent Moon with reflections on Lake Mary.

The following evening the Moon was located near the planet Venus. Capturing both of these objects and getting reflections in the water was a bit more difficult as they were higher in the sky.

Moon and Venus above Lake Mary.
Moon and Venus above Lake Mary.

Next up was the day-before-the-full-Moon in Sedona. Using The Photographers Ephemeris it’s not very difficult to determine at what time and in which location to find the Moon rising between the spires of Cathedral Rock. I’ve done this shot before but never get tired of traveling to Sedona to see it happen again. Not surprisingly, I often run into other photographers and friends with the same idea so it becomes a bit of a social gathering as well.

Moonrise above Cathedral Rock in Sedona, Arizona.
Moonrise above Cathedral Rock in Sedona, Arizona.
Moonrise above Cathedral Rock in Sedona, Arizona.
Moonrise above Cathedral Rock in Sedona, Arizona.
A couple watches the Moon rise from Cathedral Rock.
A couple watches the Moon rise from Cathedral Rock.

The first image shows the Moon having just risen into the left gap. The second image is a crop and closeup of the Moon. The third was taken several minutes later after adjusting my position a bit to capture the Moon in the middle gap. A couple can be seen in silhouette gazing at the rising Moon.

The International Space Station cross the sky.
The International Space Station cross the sky.
The ISS and OA-9 Cygnus move across the sky.
The ISS and OA-9 Cygnus move across the sky.

Finally, there was a transit of the International Space Station (ISS) and the resupply ship OA-9 Cygnus—both moving near the North Star. The transit is a 5-minute sequence of images while the star trails is a 30-minute sequence. The second image shows the bright ISS with the faint OA-9 Cygnus following behind. A day later, the OA-9 docked with the ISS.

Bright Objects in the Night Sky: Venus, Mercury, and the Moon

A bit over a week ago (18 March 2018), we had a triple conjunction in the sky. Venus and Mercury had been in the evening sky for a few weeks—and now a crescent Moon was going to join them in the evening. Weather permitting, I was interested in capturing images of this event. I headed out towards the Mormon Lake Overlook which would give me a good view of the western sky as well as the possibility of reflections of these sky objects in the shallow waters of the lake.

While waiting for the sky to darken, I was treated to a few minutes of sunset colors on some interesting wave clouds. More on that below.

Conjuction of Mercury, Venus, and the Moon.
Conjuction of Mercury, Venus, and the Moon.

The Moon and Venus are easily visible in this image taken at 7:20 P.M. MST while Mercury is a bit harder to see to the right and above Venus. A second image taken at 7:29 P.M. shows all three bodies quite clearly. And, as I had hoped, there were reflections in the water.

Conjuction of Mercury, Venus, and the Moon.
Conjuction of Mercury, Venus, and the Moon.

This is how Venus and Mercury looked earlier in the month.

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

Now, back to the wave clouds.

Long and thin wave clouds in the evening sky.
Long and thin wave clouds in the evening sky.

Although they look like jet contrails, these were actually long and thin wave clouds. As the sun began to set, the colors were briefly quite amazing.

Sunset colors on wave clouds.
Sunset colors on wave clouds.
Sunset colors on wave clouds.
Sunset colors on wave clouds.

It was an fun evening: Interesting clouds and a triple conjunction.

It was also cold…

Venus and the Crescent Moon in Evening Twilight

A few days ago the Moon and Venus were very close together in the evening twilight sky. At sunset on Friday, the two objects were about 3° apart—about six moon diameters—with the Moon located up and to the left of Venus.

Crescent Moon and Venus in evening twilight.
Crescent Moon and Venus in evening twilight.

To view this I wanted a location with a very low western horizon. I chose to visit Navajo Point on the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park. From this location, the rim to my southwest was actually slightly lower than my position giving me an unobstructed view.

There was a nice sunset to start off the evening. The clouds were lit up and there was still enough light to fill in the lower canyon.

Sunset at Navajo Point, Grand Canyon.
Sunset at Navajo Point, Grand Canyon.
Twilight at Grand Canyon.
Twilight at Grand Canyon.

The moon was only one day past New Moon and was about 1.4% illuminated although there was a bit of Earthshine helping to illuminate the entire disk.

Setting moon over the South Rim of Grand Canyon.
Setting moon over the South Rim of Grand Canyon.

As the Moon approached the horizon, atmospheric effects resulted in the lower limb of the Moon being distorted. The final image is a composite taken over several minutes prior to moonset. In this composite it is easy to see the distortion of the lower limb.