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.

Jupiter and Venus Conjunction—and the Moon

Earlier this week (13 November 2017) there was an opportunity to view a conjunction of the planets Venus and Jupiter in the pre-dawn sky. Venus is the brightest planet in the sky while Jupiter is the second brightest (and, of course, the largest). Pairings of these two planets in either the morning or evening sky are always an amazing sight. At closest approach, the distance separating the two planets was less than the diameter of the full moon. Jupiter was rising a bit higher each morning while Venus was dropping closer to the horizon.

Conjunction of Venus and Jupiter in the morning sky.
Conjunction of Venus and Jupiter in the morning sky.

For three mornings I shot photos of the morning sky. I then took the images from each day and created a layered image. Next, I shifted each image up/down, left/right until the planet Jupiter lined up. The result was that the composite contains a single image of Jupiter along with three images of Venus. This makes it easy to see how the two planets were shifting relative to each other over the course of three days.

Moon, Jupiter, and Venus in the morning sky.
Moon, Jupiter, and Venus in the morning sky.

But the show wasn’t over, yet. The waning moon was dropping lower in the sky each morning and on 16 November was located just above the pair of planets. About 4% of the moon is directly illuminated by the sun; the remainder is illuminated by Earthshine.

The photos were taken from Mars Hill where Lowell Observatory is located and look over the city of Flagstaff, Arizona, the worlds first International Dark Sky City.

Other planetary conjunctions of Venus and Jupiter have appeared on these pages before (26 May 2013; 18 August 2014).

Objects in the Night Sky

The past several weeks have presented opportunities to photograph objects in the night sky. Exceptionally clear skies and dark nights allowed me to capture some long exposures of portions of the Milky Way. Other nights had interesting alignments of the moon with one of more planets.

Early in September, Venus and Jupiter aligned with the Moon in a nearly straight line in the western sky just after sunset. Compare this with an image taken a month earlier. In the course of a month, Mercury has dropped below the horizon while Venus and Jupiter have switched locations with Venus rising higher in the sky as Jupiter dips lower.

Moon with Venus and Jupiter
Moon with Venus and Jupiter

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