It’s been a marvelous few months following Venus rise and fall across the evening sky, in its best show in eight years.
Venus is now gone from our western sky, but since late 2019 until late May 2020 it had dominated the sky as a brilliant evening star.
Here’s a gallery of Venus portraits I shot during its wonderful show these last few months.
The show began in November 2019 when rising Venus met declining Jupiter on November 23 for a fine conjunction of the two brightest planets in the evening twilight.
A week later I captured the line of the then three evening planets and the Moon across the southwest, defining the path of the ecliptic across the evening sky.
A week after that I took the opportunity to shoot some selfies of me with binoculars looking at Venus, as it met Saturn in a wide conjunction, with Venus then still low in the southwest. It was just beginning its climb up into the western sky.
A month later in mid-winter, Venus was still rather low but brilliant even in a hazy moonlit sky, as I posed for another selfie, this time with a small telescope. These images are always useful for illustrations in books and magazines. And blogs!
By the end of February Venus had climbed high into the west, and was appearing monthly near the waxing crescent Moon. This is another binocular selfie from February 27.
In March I visited Churchill, Manitoba just as the lockdown and travel restrictions were coming into effect. But our lone and last tour group at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre saw some fine auroras, as here on this evening with the Northern Lights appearing even in the twilight. And what’s that bright star? Venus, of course!
Upon my return home to Alberta, I was able to shoot more panoramas on the prairies of the wonderful early spring sky with Orion setting into the twilight and Venus in Taurus shining below the iconic Pleiades star cluster.
March 26 was a superb night for catching Venus now at its highest and almost at its brightest at this appearance, as the waxing Moon appeared below it.
The highlight of the spring Venus season was its close approach to the Pleiades, which it passes only every 8 years. Here I am viewing the conjunction two days before the closest approach, with Orion over my shoulder.
The night of closest approach, April 3, was cloudy, but here is a consolation closeup taken the next night with brilliant Venus departing the Seven Sisters.
Later in April Venus reached its greatest brilliancy, at magnitude -4.7, the date when the size of is disk, phase, and proximity to Earth converge to make Venus as bright as possible. On this night I shot the Moon, then 30° away from Venus and the planet with the same gear to show their relative sizes and similar crescent phase this night. The caption provides more details.
A week later, with Venus just past its point of greatest brilliancy, I shot the planet by daylight in the early evening sky, using a telescope to zoom into the planet to show its waning crescent phase. By this time the phase was obvious in binoculars.
But Venus was now dropping rapidly from sight. By May 23, it was low in the twilight and below Mercury, then at its best for 2020 for an evening appearance from my latitude. Note the thin Moon below the planets. This was a superb sight for binoculars.
By May 29, Venus was now tough to pick out of the evening sky, and a challenge to shoot even by day, as it then stood only 8° away from the Sun. What was once obvious to the naked eye now took a computerized telescope to pick out of the noon-day blue sky. A telescope showed the now razor-thin crescent as Venus approached its June 3 “inferior conjunction” — its passage between Earth and the Sun.
I shot and narrated video footage of the thin crescent Venus, my parting shots of Venus for its evening appearance in 2020.
But in June, post inferior conjunction, it will rise very quickly into our morning sky, providing a mirror-image repeat performance as a morning star for the rest of 2020.
Venus Near Inferior Conjunction from Alan Dyer on Vimeo.
I wish you all the best and a safe and healthy time in 2020. Take some solace in what the sky can show us and in the beauty of the night.
Three perfect nights in July provided opportunities to capture the night sky at popular sites in Banff National Park.
When the weather forecast in mid-July looked so promising I made an impromptu trip to Banff to shoot nightscapes and time-lapses under unusually clear skies. Clouds are often the norm in the mountains or, increasingly these days, forest fire smoke in late summer.
But from July 15 to 17 the skies could not have been clearer, except for the clouds that rolled in late on my last night, when I was happy to pack up and get some sleep.
My first priority was to shoot the marvellous close conjunction of the Moon and Venus on July 15. I did so from the Storm Mountain viewpoint on the Bow Valley Parkway, with a cooperative train also coming through the scene at the right time.
This was the view later with the Milky Way and Mars over Bow Valley and Storm Mountain.
The next night, July 16, was one of the most perfect I had ever seen in the Rockies. Crystal clear skies, calm winds, and great lake reflections made for a picture-perfect night at Bow Lake on the Icefields Parkway. Above is a 360° panorama shot toward the end of the night when the galactic centre of the Milky Way was over Bow Glacier.
Streaks of green airglow arc across the south, while to the north the sky is purple from a faint display of aurora.
This is a rare appearance of the unusual STEVE auroral arc on the night of July 16-17, 2018, with a relatively low Kp Index of only 2 to 3. While the auroral arc was visible the ISS made a bright pass heading east. This is a blend of a single 15-second exposure for the sky and ground, with seven 15-second exposures for the ISS, but masked to reveal just the ISS trail and its reflection in the water. The ISS shots were taken at 3-second intervals, thus the gaps. All with the Sigma 20mm Art lens at f/2 and Nikon D750 at ISO 6400. Taken from Bow Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta.
The unusual STEVE auroral arc across the northern sky at Bow Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta on the night of July 16-17, 2018. The more normal green auroral arc is lower across the northern horizon. But STEVE here appears more pink. The STEVE aurora was colourless to the eye but did show faint fast-moving rays, here blurred by the long exposure. They were moving east to west. The Big Dipper is at left. The lights are from Num-Ti-Jah Lodge. This is a single exposure for the sky and a mean-stacked blend of 3 exposures for the ground to smooth noise. All 15 seconds at f/2 with the Sigma 20mm Art lens and Nikon D750 at ISO 6400.
Earlier that night the usual auroral arc known as Steve put in an unexpected appearance. It was just a grey band to the eye, but the camera picked up Steve’s usual pink colours. Another photographer from the U.S. who showed up had no idea there was an aurora happening until I pointed it out.
My last night was at Herbert Lake, a small pond great for capturing reflections of the mountains around Lake Louise, and the Milky Way. Here, brilliant Mars, so photogenic this summer, also reflects in the still waters.
A blend of images to show the stars of the southern sky moving from east to west (left to right) over the peaks of the Continental Divide at Herbert Lake near Lake Louise, in Banff, Alberta. The main peak at left is Mount Temple. A single static image shows the Milky Way and stars at the end of the motion sequence. The star trails and Milky Way reflect in the calm waters of the small Lake Herbert this night on July 17, 2018. This is a stack of 100 images for the star trails, stacked with the Long Streak function of Advanced Stacker Plus actions, plus a single exposure taken a minute or so after the last star trail image. The star trail stack is dropped back a lot in brightness, plus they are blurred slightly, so as to not overwhelm the fixed sky image. The sky images are blended with a stack of 8 images for the ground, mean combined to smooth noise in the ground. All are 30 seconds at f/2.8 with the 24mm Sigma lens and Nikon D750 at ISO 3200. All were taken as part of a time-lapse sequence. Clouds moving in added the odd dark patches in the Milky Way that look like out of place dark nebulas. The reflected star trails are really there in the water and have not be copied, pasted and inverted from the sky image. They look irregular because of rippling in the water.
A blend of images to show the stars of the southern sky moving from east to west (left to right) over the Rocky Mountains at Bow Lake, in Banff, Alberta. The main peak at centre is Bow Peak. Crowfoot Glacier is at far left; Bow Glacier is at right below the Milky Way. A single static image shows the Milky Way and stars at the end of the motion sequence. The star trails and Milky Way reflect in the calm waters of Bow Lake this night on July 16, 2018, though they appear large and out of focus. This is a stack of 300 images for the star trails, stacked with the Ultrastreak function of Advanced Stacker Plus actions, plus a single exposure taken a minute or so after the last star trail image. The star trail stack is dropped back a lot in brightness, plus they are blurred slightly, so as to not overwhelm the fixed sky image. The sky images are blended with a stack of 8 images for the ground, mean combined to smooth noise in the ground. All are 30 seconds at f/2 with the 15mm Laowa lens and Sony a7III at ISO 3200. All were taken as part of a time-lapse sequence. Bands of airglow add the green streaks to the sky.
The stars trailing as they move east to west (left to right), ending with the Milky Way and Galactic Centre (right) over Storm Mountain and the Vermilion Pass area of the Continental Divide in Banff National Park, Alberta. Mars is the bright trail at left. Saturn is amid the Milky Way at right. This was July 15, 2018. The lights at left are from the Castle Mountain interchange at Highways 1 and 93. This is a stack of 8 exposures, mean combined to smooth noise, for the ground, plus 200 exposures for the star trails, and one exposure, untracked, for the fixed sky taken about a minute after the last star trail image. All 30 seconds at f/2.8 with the 24mm Sigma lens, and Nikon D750 at ISO 6400. The frames were taken as part of a time-lapse sequence. Dynamic Contrast filter from ON1 applied to the ground, and Soft and Airy filter from Luminar applied to the sky for a soft Orton effect.
At each site I shot time-lapses, and used those frames to have some fun with star trail stacking, showing the stars turning from east to west and reflected in the lake waters, and with a single still image taken at the end of the sequence layered in to show the untrailed sky and Milky Way.
But I also turned those frames into time-lapse movies, and incorporated them into a new music video, along with some favourite older clips reprocessed for this new video.
Banff by Night (4K) from Alan Dyer on Vimeo.
Enjoy! And do enlarge to full screen. The video is also in 4K resolution.
Clear nights and a waxing Moon made for great opportunities to shoot the Badlands under moonlight.
This has not been a great spring. Only now is the last of the snow melting here in Alberta.
But some mild and clear nights this week with the waxing gibbous Moon allowed me to head to the Red Deer River valley near where I live in Alberta for some moonlit nightscapes.
Here’s the Big Dipper high overhead as it is in spring pointing down to Polaris.
I shot this and some other images in this gallery with the new Sony a7III mirrorless camera. A full test of its astrophoto abilities is in the works.
This is Jupiter rising, with the Moon lighting the sky, and illuminating the landscape. Moonlight is the same colour as sunlight, just much fainter. So while this might look like a daytime scene, it isn’t.
This is Venus setting in the evening twilight at the Hoodoos on Highway 10 near Drumheller. The winter stars are setting into the west, to disappear for a few months.
Here’s Venus in closeup, passing between the Hyades and Pleiades star clusters in Taurus, low in the twilight over the scenic Horsethief Canyon area of the Red Deer River.
While Venus is climbing higher into our evening sky this spring, the Pleiades, Hyades and all the winter stars are fast disappearing from view.
We say goodbye to winter, and not a moment too soon!
October has brought clear skies and some fine celestial sights. Here’s a potpourri of what was up from home.
We’ve enjoyed some lovely early autumn weather here in southern Alberta, providing great opportunities to see and shoot a series of astronomical events.
On October 5, Venus and Mars appeared a fraction of a degree apart in the dawn twilight. Venus is the brightest object, just above dimmer but red Mars. This was one of the closest planet conjunctions of 2017. Mars will appear much brighter in July and August 2018 when it makes its closest approach to Earth since 2003.
Satellites: The Space Station
The Space Station made a series of ideal evening passes in early October, flying right overhead from my site at latitude 51° N. I captured it in a series of stacked still images, so it appears as a dashed line across the sky. In reality it looks like a very bright star, outshining any other natural star. Here, it appears to fly toward the rising Moon.
Often appearing brighter than even the ISS, Iridium satellite flares can blaze brighter than even Venus at its best. One did so here, above, in another time-lapse of a pair of Iridium satellites that traveled in parallel and flared at almost the same time. But the orientation of the reflective antennas that create these flares must have been better on the left Iridium as it really shot up in brilliance for a few seconds.
Little in the sky beats a fine aurora display and we’ve had several of late, despite the Sun being spotless and nearing a low ebb in its activity. The above shot is a composite stack of 200 images, showing the stars circling the celestial pole above the main auroral arc, and taken on Friday the 13th.
This frame, from some 1300 I shot this night, October 13, captures the main auroral arc and a diffuse patch of green above that pulsed on and off.
You can see the time-lapse here in my short music video on Vimeo.
Friday the 13th Aurora from Alan Dyer on Vimeo.
It’s in 4K if your monitor and computer are capable. It nicely shows the development of the aurora this night, from a quiescent arc, through a brief sub-storm outburst, then into pulsing and flickering patches. Enjoy!
What all these scenes have in common is that they were all shot from home, in my backyard. It is wonderful to live in a rural area and to be able to step outside and see these sites easily by just looking up!
It was one of those mornings when the sky was full of wonder.
After days and nights of smoke from unfortunate fires burning not far away, including in my favourite national park of Waterton Lakes, the sky cleared enough this morning, September 12, to reveal some fine sights.
At 6 a.m. the waning gibbous Moon passed in front of the star Aldebaran in Taurus. It is performing many such occultations of Aldebaran this year, but most aren’t well seen from any one location. This one was ideal, right from my backyard.
The lead image is a “high dynamic range” stack of several exposures showing the waning Moon and star set in some high haze adding the sky colours.
The star winked out behind the Moon’s bright limb as the Moon advanced from right to left (west to east) against the background sky.
This shows a composite sequence, with images of the star taken every four minutes blended with a single image of the Moon. While it looks like the star is moving, it is really the Moon that is edging closer to Aldebaran.
The star reappeared from behind the dark limb of the Moon, but five minutes after sunrise, with the Moon in a bright blue sky. Still, the star stood out nicely in binoculars and in the telescope for this view.
Aldebaran is the point of light at right, just off the invisible edge of the Moon.
I shot stills and video, and compiled them into this short video.
Enlarge it to full screen to view it properly.
Meanwhile, over to the east the twilight sky was awash in planets.
All the three inner terrestrial worlds were there: Venus, at top, Mercury below Regulus, and Mars lowest of the trio. Of course, a fourth terrestrial world is in the photo, too – Earth!
Mercury was at its greatest western elongation this morning, placing it as far from the Sun and as high in the sky as it gets, with this autumn appearance the best of 2017 for a morning showing for Mercury. Even so, you can see how Mercury is always low and easy to miss. However, this morning it was obvious to the naked eye.
Mars and Mercury will be in close conjunction at dawn on the morning of September 16.
It was a fine morning to be up early and enjoy the solar system show.
As we celebrate the official arrival of spring in the Northern Hemisphere, we bid adieu to the stars of winter.
This was the scene last night from my backyard, of Orion and the surrounding constellations of the winter sky setting into the southwest in the early evening. Each night they will set sooner and sooner, even as the nights continue to grow shorter and the Sun sets later.
By late April Orion will be gone from our Northern Hemisphere sky — he hangs around until well into May for sites south of the equator.
In this version I’ve labeled the main characters in this winter hunting scene – including some of the deep-sky “Messier” objects like M45, the Pleiades; M44, the Beehive star cluster; and M42, the Orion Nebula.
At the same time this year, we also say goodbye to Venus which has shone so brightly these last few months as an evening star. By this weekend, it will be lost from sight as it passes between Earth and the Sun.
Meanwhile, Mercury is rising into view in the evening twilight, in its best evening showing of the year from northern latitudes. The view below is also from March 19, with Mercury to the left of brighter Venus.
Over the next two weeks, look low in the west for a bright star amid the twilight. Mercury appears farthest from the Sun on April 1, the date of its “greatest elongation.”
Having Mercury in our evening sky is a sure sign of spring.
Another sign of spring is Leo the lion.
While Orion sets in the west, the stars of spring are rising in the east. The panorama above depicts the scene in the eastern sky these nights, as Leo rises below the Big Dipper.
The Big Dipper is at upper left, with its handle pointing down to Arcturus at bottom left. The Bowl of the Dipper points down to the right to Regulus and the stars of Leo.
Above Leo is the star cluster M44, the Beehive, in Cancer. Below Leo at centre is the star cluster Mel 111, the Coma Berenices star cluster near the North Galactic Pole.
The crescent Moon rises into the western evening sky as 2016 ends, while Venus shines bright, and Orion rises into the east.
Getting clear skies is a rare treat of late, but these are images from two such nights this week. On December 30, the thin waxing Moon appeared in the colourful twilight of a winter night. Despite the clouds and the Moon’s low altitude, the dark side of the Moon is plainly visible illuminated by Earthshine.
Venus is now brilliant as an evening star in the southwest. Here is it over the old wood grain elevators at Mossleigh, Alberta, some of the few of these landmarks left standing on the prairies.
Fainter Mars shines above Venus and over the month of January, Venus will climb up to meet Mars by month’s end for a fine conjunction with the crescent Moon as well. Watch through January as Venus and Mars converge.
As the planets set into the southwest, Orion the Hunter rises into the east. Here it is over the Mossleigh elevators, illuminated by local lights.
The waning Moon joined Venus and Saturn on a cold winter dawn.
This was the scene this morning, January 6, as the waning crescent Moon met with Venus (bright, at centre) and Saturn (below and left of Venus) in the cold morning twilight.
The grouping appeared above the stars of Scorpius. Antares is just above the treetops.
The top image is with the Canon 60Da and 50mm lens.
The view below, with the 135mm telephoto and Canon 6D camera, is from a half hour earlier before the sky began to brighten with morning twilight.
Venus passes very close to Saturn this weekend, with the two worlds appearing within a telescope field on the mornings of January 8 and 9. Get up early before sunrise and look southeast. Binoculars will provide a superb view.
Venus is hard to miss, but is now dropping lower each morning and will soon be gone from view as it ends its wonderful appearance as a morning star.
Comet Catalina sports two tails as it moves past Venus in the dawn sky.
This was the view this morning, December 9, from my site in Arizona, of Comet Catalina near Venus in the dawn sky. This is a telephoto lens shot that provides a view similar in size to what binoculars show.
However, the blue ion tail visible here stretching back several degrees is mostly a photographic target. Visually, just Catalina’s short, stubby dust tail at lower right is obvious.
The ion tail points away from the Sun, while the dust tail extends along the comet’s orbit, showing where the comet has been.
The view, both visually and photographically, of the comet will improve as it climbs higher into the eastern morning sky and as it moves away from the glare of Venus. The Moon is also now gone from the dawn, at least for the next couple of weeks.
The comet is dimmer than expected but should at least maintain this brightness for the next month or so.
This is a stack of 5 x 90-second exposures, taken with the 135mm telephoto and 1.4x extender for a focal length of 190mm, at f/2.8 and with the Canon 5D MkII at ISO 1600, tracked on the iOptron Sky-Tracker. Two other exposures, of 15s and 1s, were blended in with luminosity masks to reduce the glare of Venus to a smaller size.
What a morning of sky sights, both before dawn and after sunrise.
December 7 – This was the prime day I came to Arizona to enjoy, to be better assured of clear skies. As it turned out this will likely be the cloudiest day of the week here, but skies were clear enough for a fine view of a conjunction and an occultation. The comet was a bonus.
At 4 a.m. the waning crescent Moon rose accompanied by Venus, as the two worlds appeared in close conjunction in the pre-dawn sky. The view above captures the scene as the Moon and Venus rose over the Peloncillo Mountains of New Mexico. Comet Catalina is in this scene but barely visible.
An hour or so later, with the Moon and Venus higher and with skies a little less cloudy, I was able to capture this scene, above, that included Comet Catalina, as a tiny blue dot next to Venus and the Moon. But if I hadn’t labeled it, you wouldn’t know it was there! The comet is proving to be less wonderful than anticipated, and any cloud dims the view even more.
I had hoped for a superb scene of a bright comet next to the two brightest objects in the night sky. But comets do what comets do — surprise people with unexpected brightness (as Comet Lovejoy did last January) or with disappointing dimness … or by disappearing altogether, as Comet ISON did two years ago. I came here in December 2013, to this same location on the Arizona-New Mexico border, to catch ISON but no luck there at all!
Regardless of the comet, the conjunction of the Moon and Venus was stunning, about as good as such events get. Here’s the view, above, an hour later again, with the eastern sky brightening in the dawn twilight. The only thing that would have made this event even more spectacular is if the Moon had actually covered up Venus in this twilight sky. Not quite.
For the occultation itself, we had to wait until well after sunrise for an event in the blue daytime sky, at 9:30 a.m. local time.
All of North America got to see this fairly rare occultation of Venus by the Moon, albeit in the daytime. Nevertheless, the two objects are so bright, this was visible to the unaided eye, even with some cloud about. In binoculars it was wonderful.
To shoot it, all I had was a telephoto lens, so the image scale doesn’t do the event justice. But the image above provides a good impression of the binocular view, with Venus as a brilliant jewel on the “ring” of the Moon.
Cloud hid Comet Catalina but added a halo around the waning Moon, intersected by the line of the ecliptic.
I’m in Arizona, just inside the state line with New Mexico, on a quest to shoot Comet Catalina at dawn. Clouds prevented any view of the faint comet this morning but provided a fine consolation prize.
The waning crescent Moon was surrounded by an ice crystal halo, a rare sight around a thin Moon. The Moon was between Mars and Jupiter, heading toward a conjunction with Venus, below, on December 7.
The line of Venus, Mars, the Moon, and Jupiter, plus the stars Spica and Regulus defined the line of the ecliptic beautifully in the pre-dawn sky.
It was a show of circles and lines, real and imagined, in the morning sky.
With luck, clouds will clear to reveal Comet Catalina, which is likely fainter and less spectacular than hoped. But such is the way of comets. Regardless of what the comet does, it is a good time to be in the desert southwest, typing this blog on a sunny front porch under blue desert skies.
A new comet is coming into our morning sky, for our binocular viewing pleasure.
Comet Catalina, aka C/2013 US10, has emerged from behind the Sun and is beginning to rise into our northern hemisphere dawn sky. The new comet promises to be visible in binoculars, but likely won’t be obvious to the unaided eyes.
On the morning of December 7 the comet sits within a binocular field of the waning crescent Moon which itself sits just above brilliant Venus. That in itself will be a remarkable view, best appreciated in binoculars, and a fine photogenic sight for the camera.
The close conjunction of the crescent Moon with Venus alone will be enough of an attraction on December 7, but the comet should add to the scene.
December 7 Venus Occultation
Even more, later in the day the Moon actually passes in front of, or “occults,” Venus in the daytime sky for most of North America.
That occultation happens in the morning for western North America and in the early afternoon for eastern North America. However, you’ll need a telescope to see it well, and very clear blue skies.
Use planetarium software (the free Stellarium program, for example, shown above, if you do not own astronomy software) to simulate the sky and provide the occultation times for your location. Zoom into the Moon and run time back and forth on December 7 to see when Venus goes behind the Moon and reappears. The screen shot above is for Calgary.
Back to the Comet
Comet Catalina was discovered in October 2013 at the Catalina Observatory in Arizona. The comet spent the last few months in the southern hemisphere sky, but is now coming north and into our sky, but at dawn.
It rises higher and higher each morning through December and into the new year. It may remain at fifth magnitude, bright enough to be easily visible in binoculars from a dark site, but likely not naked eye.
The chart above plots the comet at daily intervals, from December 4 to January 1. The comet is shown for December 15. Note that on the morning of January 1 it sits within a telescope field of the bright star Arcturus.
The distance from Earth to the comet decreases through December and early January, keeping the comet at a constant brightness even as it recedes from the Sun. We are closest to Catalina on January 17, at a far distance of 108 million km. But in late January the comet fades rapidly to become a telescope target.
To see Comet Catalina this month, get up 1 to 2 hours before sunrise and look southeast to east. But you will need dark skies to see it well. This will not be a good urban comet.
Nevertheless, as far as we know, this will be the best comet of 2016.
The morning planets are now strung out along the ecliptic, visualizing this line in the sky.
This was the view this morning, November 14, of the three dawn planets lined up along the ecliptic, with the stars Spica and Regulus also defining this imaginary line.
The ecliptic is the Earth’s orbital path around the Sun projected into the sky. So it is along this line that we see the Sun appear to move around the sky over a year. But it is also the path along which we find the seven other major planets – in this case, three of them: Venus, Mars and Jupiter.
These three worlds were clustered together in October, but are now spreading out along the ecliptic, as Venus drops lower but Mars and Jupiter climb higher.
The stars Spica and Regulus also lie along the ecliptic, where the Moon can occasionally pass in front of, or occult, these stars.
So the two stars and three planets are now nicely drawing the ecliptic line for us in the dawn sky. At this time of year, the ecliptic is also steeply angled above the eastern horizon.
The main image above is a stack of 4 x 20 second exposures for the ground, to smooth noise, and one 20-second exposure for the sky, all with the Nikon D810a at ISO 1000 and Nikkor 14-24mm lens at f/2.8 and at 14mm.
This image just above is with the same gear but with the lens at the 24mm setting to more tightly frame the planets.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the sky at dawn, Orion and his winter sky friends were setting into the west (image below).
All the images here are shot with the Nikon D810a camera and the amazing Nikkor 14-24mm lens, two items in hand this month for testing and review. A thorough test will appear in future blogs.
Of course, as wonderful as the gear is, it cannot extract the ecliptic line and labels from the sky – those are added in Photoshop!
This was the trio of planets at their best in the morning sky.
On the morning of October 28, Mars, Venus and Jupiter formed a neat isosceles triangle in the twilight. Venus, the brightest, was in the middle, with Mars below and Jupiter above. The grouping shone amid the stars of Leo, with its brightest star, Regulus, above the windmill in the lead image above. The rest of Leo lies above the planets.
To capture the scene I drove west at 5 am to a farmstead I had shot at before, in June, to capture Venus and Jupiter, also then in Leo near Regulus, but in the evening sky looking west. Click here for that blog post from mid-June.
This morning, the Moon, just past full as the annual Hunter’s Moon, shone in the west off camera lighting the landscape.
The dawn sky colours and the moonlit red barn made for a fine colour contrast.
After today, the planet configuration breaks up, as Venus descends to meet Mars on November 2 and 3, while Jupiter climbs higher. But another great morning sight awaits on November 7 when the waning crescent Moon will shine near the Venus-Mars pairing, with Jupiter above.
On the way home I stopped at fog-bound Lake MacGregor to capture the planets in a brightening dawn sky over the misty waters.
This morning the three planets lay just 4.5 degrees apart, close enough to frame in high-power binoculars.
We won’t see these three planets this close to each other in a darkened sky — as opposed to being so close to the Sun we really can’t see them — until November 21, 2111.
Skies were clear at dawn this morning for a fabulous view of the rare conjunction of three planets. And I could not have been at a more photogenic site.
This was the view before dawn on October 25, as brilliant Venus and dimmer Jupiter shone just a degree apart in the dawn sky. Mars, much fainter, shines just below the close duo. The three planets could easily be contained in a high power binocular field.
Not until November 2111 will these three planets be this close together again in a darkened sky.
Indeed, Venus could not have been higher, as it is just now reaching its maximum elongation from the Sun, placing it high in the eastern morning sky.
I shot from the shores of Lake Annette, site of one of the major events, the Friday star party, at the annual Jasper Dark Sky Festival which just concluded, in Jasper National Park, Alberta. The Festival celebrates the Park’s status as one of the world’s largest Dark Sky Preserves.
The hotels and restaurants were full with stargazers from around the world, making the Festival a huge success, both educationally and financially. I was honoured to be able to present some of the public and school talks.
But this dawn sky was a fine way to end a fabulous weekend of astronomy.
The image above is a panorama in the twilight, sweeping from the planets in the east, to the winter stars and constellations, including iconic Orion, in the south and southwest.
Earlier in the morning, before twilight began to brighten the sky, I shot another even wider panorama from the south shore of the lake.
In this and other photos, high haze adds the glows around the stars and planets naturally. No special effects filters here!
But Venus and Jupiter are so close and bright their images almost merge into one glow.
Here they are, with Mars below, shining in the dark sky over the Watchtower peak and over the misty waters of Lake Annette.
Four planets appear in the dawn sky outlining the morning ecliptic.
This morning, October 20, I was able to capture four planets in the morning sky, arrayed along the ecliptic.
From bottom to top they are: Mercury (just past its point of greatest elongation from the Sun), dim Mars, bright Jupiter, and very bright Venus (just 6 days away from its point of greatest elongation from the Sun). Above Venus is Regulus, in Leo.
I’ve added in the labels and the line of the ecliptic, rising steeply out of the east in the autumn dawn sky.
Of course, there is a fifth unlabelled planet in the scene, quite close in the foreground.
The image below is an unlabeled version.
Mercury will be disappearing from view very quickly now as it drops back down toward the Sun.
But over the next week the three higher planets will converge into a tight triangle just 4.5 degrees apart. We won’t see these three planets this close together in a darkened sky until November 2111.
I shot the scene from home in southern Alberta. The image is a composite stack, with manually created masks (not an HDR stack), of 5 exposures, from 15 seconds to 1 second, to contain the range of brightness from the bright horizon to the dimmer star-filled sky higher up. All are with the 35mm lens and Canon 6D at ISO 800.
You might have already seen Venus shining brightly in the morning sky. And perhaps you’ve seen a slightly less bright object below it. That’s Jupiter.
But there’s a third, even dimmer planet accompanying Venus and Jupiter — reddish Mars. On the morning of Saturday, October 17 (chart above ⬆️) Mars and Jupiter pass just 1/2 degree apart, for a mismatched double “star” at dawn.
The planets put on an even better show in the following 10 days as all three converge to form a tight triangle of worlds in the morning sky.
On October 23 ⬆️, Venus, Mars and Jupiter appear in a close grouping just 4.5 degrees apart, close enough to each other to be easily contained in the field of typical binoculars, the circle shown in these charts.
Two mornings later, on October 25 ⬆️, Venus and Jupiter are at their closest apparent separation, just 1 degree apart, for a brilliant double “star” in the morning twilight. If you miss this morning, on the next morning, October 24, the two planets appear about the same distance apart as well.
By October 28 ⬆️, the three planets have switched positions, as Venus drops lower but Jupiter climbs higher. But they again appear in a triangle, 4.5 degrees wide.
The motion you’re seeing from day to day is due to a combination of the planets’ own orbital motions around the Sun, as well as our planet’s motion.
Keep in mind, the planets aren’t really close together in space. They lie tens, if not hundreds, of millions of kilometres apart. They appear close to each other in our sky because they lie along the same line of sight.
Do try to get up early enough — between 6 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. should do it — to look east to see the changing configuration of planets as they dance at dawn. Binoculars will provide the best view.
This is a rare sight! We won’t see these three planets this close to each other in a darkened sky until November 20, 2111!
The Moon appeared along with four planets in the dawn sky.
The sky was filled with planets this morning, as all four of the closest planets to the Sun appeared along the ecliptic in the morning sky. Plus there’s a fifth planet in the picture – Earth.
Here, the waning crescent Moon, lit by Earthshine, appears with four planets on the morning of October 9, 2015, with the planets from bottom left to top right:
• Mercury, just above the horizon between the low cloud bands, at lower left
• Jupiter, bright at centre
• Mars, reddish and above Jupiter
• Venus, brightest at upper right and in some thin cloud.
The bright star Regulus in Leo is above and to the left of Venus.
Above is an unlabeled version of the image.
It’s a blend of four exposures: a long 4-second exposure for most of the sky and ground, plus shorter 2, 1, and 1/2 second exposures for the bright twilight area and around the Moon and Venus, to prevent those areas from being blown out. Blending is with masks, not HDR. All were shot with the Canon 6D at ISO 400 and 50mm Sigma lens at f/2.5.
The Moon, planets and Northern lights provided a wonderful show in the dawn sky.
What a superb scene this was. On October 8 the waning crescent Moon shone near Venus (brightest) and Regulus, with red Mars and bright Jupiter paired below.
If that wasn’t enough, as the wide-angle panorama below shows, the Northern Lights were also ending a night of performance, with an arc along the horizon and pulsing waves rising up the sky to the northeast near the planet grouping.
The panorama also sweeps right, to the south, to take in the winter Milky Way and constellations of Orion and Canis Major. Click on the image to bring it up full screen.
The Moon will appear near Mars and Jupiter on the morning of October 9, and then the three planets will begin to converge for a tight gathering for a few mornings around October 25.
Be sure to wake early for the dawn sky show that continues all this month!
Look east this week to see a wonderful conjunction of the waning Moon with three planets in the morning sky.
A great dance of the planets is about to begin in the dawn sky.
Venus, Mars and Jupiter are now all prominent in the eastern sky before sunrise, with Venus by far the brightest. Below it shines slightly dimmer Jupiter. But between those two brightest of planets shines dim red Mars.
The three planets are converging for a mutual close meeting in the third week of October, when from October 23 to 28 the trio of planets will appear within a binocular field of each other.
But this week, with the three planets still spread out along a line, the Moon joins the scene to start the planet dance. It shines near Venus on the morning of October 8 (as shown here). and then near Mars and Jupiter on October 9.
Look east between 5:30 and 6:30 a.m. local time. All the planets are easy to see with unaided eye even in the city, but binoculars will frame the Moon-Venus pairing on October 8 and the Moon-Mars-Jupiter trio on October 9.
Venus, now at its brightest as a morning star, shines amid the subtle glow of the Zodiacal Light.
This was the scene this morning, September 17, on a very frosty dawn at 5 a.m. from my backyard in southern Alberta.
Here, Venus shines nearly as bright as it can be, at magnitude -4.7, in the dawn sky as a brilliant “morning star.”
Venus appears amid the faint glow of the Zodiacal Light, sometimes called the “False Dawn,” stretching diagonally from the dawn horizon in the east, up and to the right, and reaching the Milky Way that runs vertically down the frame from top centre to bottom right.
Orion and the winter stars shine in the Milky Way, with Sirius above the trees at lower right.
The Beehive Cluster, M44, appears as the small group of stars above Venus. The Pleiades, M45, is at top right.
Mars is the brightest object left of Venus, with the bright star Regulus just below it and rising in the east. The stars of the Big Dipper are at far left at the edge of the frame.
The sky is beginning to brighten with the real glow of morning. It was a marvellous dawn sky delight.
This is a stack of 4 x 2-minute exposures, tracked and mean-combine stacked, for the sky and 2 x 2-minute exposures, untracked and stacked, for the ground to minimize blurring in the starlit ground. The Canon 6D was on the iOptron Sky-Tracker, shooting at ISO 1250 with the 15mm full-frame fish-eye lens at f/3.5. The stacking with a mean combine stack mode smooths noise in both sky and ground.
On the morning of September 10 the waning crescent Moon gathered near bright Venus and much dimmer but redder Mars (at left) in the dawn sky.
Venus and Mars have both moved into the morning sky, where they will begin a series of conjunctions with the Moon and with Jupiter, now just emerging from behind the Sun, over the next two months. This gathering is just the start of the dawn planet dance.
For the technically minded, this is a high-dynamic range stack of 5 exposures to accommodate the large range in brightness between the sky and Moon, and to preserve the earthshine on the “dark side of the Moon.”
I shot this with the Canon 6D and 135mm lens at f/2 and at ISO 800 in a set of 8, 4, 2, 1 and 0.5-second exposures, blended with HDR Pro in Photoshop using 32-bit mode of Adobe Camera Raw.
Look east at dawn on September 10 to see the first in a series of planet dances in the dawn sky.
Earlier this year in spring we had Venus and Jupiter blazing in the evening western sky. Now, after a time of retreat behind the Sun, they are emerging to repeat their show together but in the dawn sky.
However, Venus and Jupiter won’t be close together until the end of October. Until then, Venus and Jupiter slowly converge in the dawn sky, but now accompanied by dimmer but redder Mars.
On the morning of September 10, look east before sunrise to see the waning crescent Moon shining between Venus and Mars. Binoculars will frame the Moon and Venus, or the Moon and Mars, but not all three at once.
If your horizon and sky are very clear you might spy Jupiter as well shining down below the trio in the bright morning twilight.
The real dawn dance begins in mid to late October, when first Mars, then Venus passes Jupiter, and all three worlds cluster in a tight triangle in the morning twilight.
The thin waxing Moon shines near Venus above the colourful clouds of sunset.
Tonight, July 18, was the evening of a close conjunction of the crescent Moon near Venus in the evening sky. From my latitude at 50° North, the conjunction was going to be low, and at risk of clouds.
In this case, the clouds added to the scene as they lit up with sunset colours.
You can see the Moon and Venus at centre, while fainter Jupiter is at upper right, and perhaps not visible on screen at this scale.
The location is one I used last month for the Venus-Jupiter meeting, Little Fish Lake and Provincial Park, north of Drumheller. It’s a quiet spot. This Saturday night there were just three families there camping.
I shot this telephoto panorama with my red-sensitive Canon 60Da, which is designed to record red nebulas well, but does a nice job on punching up sunsets, too!
Alas, the clouds that painted the sky so nicely here, moved in as the worlds set lower. I wasn’t able to shoot them closer to the horizon amid the deep colours of a late twilight. But I’ll settle for this image.
The waxing Moon and Venus shine over contrasting landscapes, both urban and rural.
I shot the main image at top last night, May 21, from a site overlooking the urban skyline of Calgary, Alberta. The waxing Moon shines near Venus in the twilight sky.
By contrast I shot the image below the night before, from a location that couldn’t be more different – remote, rural Saskatchewan, on a heritage farmstead first settled in the 1920s by the Butala family. It is now the Old Man on His Back Prairie and Heritage Conservation Area.
Here, the crescent Moon shines a little lower, below Venus, amid the subtle colours of twilight in a crystal clear prairie sky.
However, as the top image demonstrates, you don’t need to travel to remote rural locations to see and photograph beautiful sky sights. Twilight conjunctions of the Moon and bright planets lend themselves to urban nightscapes.
Three planets now shine in the evening sky, including Saturn now at its best for 2015.
Look west in the early evening to sight brilliant Venus in the twilight, and slightly dimmer Jupiter above it. On the evening of Thursday, May 21, look for the waxing crescent Moon below Venus in a wide pairing of the night sky’s two brightest objects.
The Moon appears between Venus and Jupiter on Friday, May 22, and near Jupiter two nights later on Saturday, May 23.
Meanwhile over on the other side of the sky, Saturn is rising at sunset.
As the illustration shows, look southeast after sunset to see Saturn rising along with the stars of Scorpius. Saturn now outshines all the stars of Scorpius, including the red giant star Antares, shining below Saturn.
Saturn is at opposition this weekend, meaning Sun, Earth and Saturn are now lined up with Earth directly between the Sun and Saturn. That puts Saturn as close to us as it gets for 2015, and as bright as it gets.
Being opposite the Sun, Saturn is now rising in the southeast as the Sun sets in the northwest.
Here’s a shot of Saturn, Scorpius, and the Milky Way from early this morning, May 20, taken about 2:30 a.m. when Saturn and Scorpius lay due south. From the latitude of southern Saskatchewan where I am this week, Saturn and Scorpius graze the southern horizon, even in the middle of the night.
Mercury and Venus shine as “evening stars” over the Red Deer River in southern Alberta.
What a fine night this was for nightscape shooting. Mercury and Venus are both now about as high as they will get for the year in the evening sky from my western Canadian latitude.
Venus is easy to spot as the brilliant object in the west. But Mercury is more elusive. You can see it here low in the twilight glow and much dimmer than Venus.
The photo illustrates how far each of the two inner planets swings away from the Sun in our skies, and why Mercury has its reputation for being difficult to sight. Also, it appears at its best for only a couple of weeks at a time. By mid-May it will be gone.
Venus, however, continues to dominate our western sky for the next two months.
I shot the main photo from the deck of a rickety wooden bridge over the Red Deer River near Dorothy, Alberta, just off Highway 10 east of Drumheller in the Badlands.
The image is a high-dynamic-range “HDR” stack of five exposures.
Shortly after taking the lead photo, I drove west to the Atlas Coal Mine to shoot it by the light of the now high and nearly Full Moon. Mercury can still be seen low and to the right of the historic tipple building. Venus shines above it.
This is a single 25-second exposure at ISO 800.
The Atlas Coal Mine is now a National Historic Site and is the last standing from what was once a booming coal mining centre in the Red Deer River Valley.
On the evening of April 21 the waxing Moon shines near Venus, while Mercury appears near Mars.
Say goodbye to the winter sky, as Orion and Taurus sink into the western twilight. Joining them is an array of planets, and the Moon.
Look west on April 21 and you’ll see the waxing crescent Moon near brilliant Venus, with both above the Hyades star cluster and the bright star Aldebaran in Taurus.
The thinner Moon will appear below Venus the night before, on April 21, while on April 22, the waxing Moon, then a wider crescent, will sit well above Venus.
If you have an unobstructed view to the west also look for the pairing of Mercury and Mars low in the twilight. You might need to use binoculars to pick them out.
Mercury is just beginning its best evening appearance of the year for the northern hemisphere. So if you miss it April 21, you have another couple of weeks to find it in the evening sky.
On the nights around April 21, also look for Earthshine lighting the dark side of the Moon. You can see the night side of the Moon because it is being illuminated by sunlight reflecting off the Earth, shining brightly in the lunar sky.
The above image is a view of Earthshine from a month ago, on March 24, when the Moon appeared in the Hyades star cluster.
Enjoy the spring sky adorned by Venus as a bright “evening star,” and joined by the Moon on April 21.
Look west and south this weekend to see the two brightest planets each pairing with a bright cluster of stars.
This weekend, Venus and Jupiter each pair with a prominent open star cluster.
In the west, look for brilliant Venus, an evening “star” this spring, shining near the Pleiades, or Seven Sisters star cluster. Some know it as Messier 45.
Both Venus and the Pleiades are in Taurus the bull, whose main stars lie to the left of the Venus-Pleiades pairing. Farther to the left still, look for the distinctive stars of Orion the hunter, whose trio of Belt stars give him away.
As this close up shows, binoculars will nicely frame Venus and the Pleiades at once.
Venus continues to climb higher this spring while the Pleiades and the other stars of the winter sky, including Orion and Taurus, sink lower and lower. The next few nights are the best for catching Venus as it passes the Pleiades.
High in the south as it gets dark shines the other bright planet in our sky – Jupiter.
It, too pairs with a star cluster. Jupiter now shines a binocular field to the east (left) of the Beehive Cluster, also known as Messier 44. Jupiter and M44 lie in Cancer the crab, a faint constellation nestled between Leo to the east and Gemini to the west.
Jupiter has been retrograding closer to the Beehive all winter and early spring. But this weekend Jupiter sits as close to the cluster as it is going to get. For the rest of spring and summer Jupiter will move east away from the Beehive.
Look west and south as it gets dark this weekend, for the pair of planet-cluster pairings!
The Moon meets Venus over a New Mexico pond in the heart of the Apache homelands.
This was the scene on Sunday evening, March 22, 2015, as the waxing crescent Moon appeared near Venus in one of the best conjunctions of the spring.
Earthshine lights the dark side of the Moon, while Mars also appears, below the Moon-Venus pair.
For these images I set up on the picturesque grounds of a resort called the Inn of the Mountain Gods, near Ruidoso, New Mexico, a ski resort in winter and a cool mountain retreat in summer.
The resort, run by and on land owned by the Mescalero Apache, honours the spirits of the four sacred mountains on Apache land: Sierra Blanca, Guadalupe Mountains, Three Sisters Mountain and Oscura Mountain Peak.
As the resort brochure states, “These four mountains represent the direction of everyday life for our Apache people. Our grandparents would often speak of the place called White Mountain. It was there that the creator gave us life and it is a special place.”
I shot this image a little later in the evening when the sky was darker, stars were beginning to appear, and thin clouds added haloes around the waxing Moon and Venus. I think the clouds added a photogenic touch.
This weekend and early next week look for the Moon passing planets and star clusters in the evening sky.
The waxing Moon returns to the evening sky on Saturday night, March 21, a day and half after it eclipsed the Sun over the North Atlantic and Europe.
On Saturday, March 21 look for the thin crescent Moon very low in the west sitting just a degree (two Moon diameters) left of reddish and dim Mars.
The next night, Sunday, March 22, the Moon, now a wider crescent, shines three degrees (half a binocular field) left of brilliant Venus, for a beautiful close conjunction of the night sky’s two brightest objects. The photo ops abound!
This is one of the best Moon-Venus meet-ups of the current “evening star” apparition of Venus this winter and spring. Next month, for example, the Moon will sit six degrees away from Venus on April 21.
On Monday, March 23, the crescent Moon sits between Venus and its next destination, the bright star Aldebaran.
On Tuesday, March 24, the Moon, still a crescent, shines amid the stars of the Hyades star cluster near Aldebaran in Taurus, for a wonderful binocular scene. The more famous Pleiades star cluster is near by.
On all nights, you’ll see the night side of the Moon dimly illuminated by Earthshine, sunlight reflecting off the Earth and lighting up the dark side of the Moon.
Here’s a close-up of the March 24 scene, with the Moon in the V-shaped face of Taurus the bull that is marked by the widely scattered Hyades star cluster.
Please note: This diagram and the main chart above, are for western North America. From eastern North America, the Moon will be 2 to 4 Moon diameters lower in the sky for each of the dates indicated.
This Friday, February 20, look west to see one of the best planet conjunctions of 2015.
On the evening of February 20, the waxing crescent Moon joins Venus and Mars in the western sky to create a tight gathering of worlds in the twilight.
The trio of worlds will be just one degree apart, close enough to fit within the low-power field of a telescope.
However, the conjunction will be easy to sight with the unaided eye, with the possible exception of Mars itself. It is now dim enough, and so close to brilliant Venus and the Moon, that picking it out might be tough without optical aid.
But any binoculars will nicely show this wonderful trio, as here:
This closeup image shows the field through binoculars, which typically frame about six to seven degrees of sky. The Moon, Venus and Mars will be a mere one degree apart.
The next night, February 21, the crescent Moon will sit above the Venus-Mars pair. But the two planets will be even closer together, just 1/2 degree apart. They will be a little farther apart on February 22.
Venus and Mars pass in conjunction this weekend as Mars sinks lower into the sky, to disappear behind the Sun by spring, while Venus climbs higher, to dominate the spring sky this year.
This will be a photogenic conjunction, so get your camera out. Use a normal to moderate telephoto lens (50mm to 135mm) to frame the celestial gathering above a scenic horizon.
As the Moon departs the evening sky, we are left with a dark sky for viewing Comet Lovejoy, converging planets, and the elusive Zodiacal Light.
The western sky contains wonders this month.
Look into the evening twilight and you’ll see brilliant Venus appearing a little higher each night. As it climbs up, fainter Mars above is descending closer to the horizon. The two planets are converging toward a spectacular close conjunction with each other, and with the waxing crescent Moon, on February 20.
Meanwhile, Comet Lovejoy (C/2014 Q2) continues to perform well. It is now in the northwestern sky in the early evening, as it travels up through Andromeda into Cassiopeia.
While technically visible to the unaided eye, you really need binoculars or any telescope to see Comet Lovejoy well. Through optical aid it does show a faint tail. But it takes a long exposure photo to show it well.
Here’s where to find Comet Lovejoy over the next couple of weeks, during the current dark-of-the-Moon period.
Look for a fuzzy star in Andromeda. It’s not passing very near any notable deep-sky objects, but its position will still make for a nice wide-angle photo with the comet embedded in this photogenic region of the northern autumn sky.
The other sight to look for each evening for the next two weeks is the Zodiacal Light. My photo shows it from last month, when Comet Lovejoy was crossing the ecliptic.
Look for a pyramid of light stretching up from the sunset point to high in the west. It follows the ecliptic, the green line in the top star chart. It takes a dark sky to see it, and it helps to be at a southerly latitude. But I’ve seen and shot the Zodiacal Light nicely in February from home in Alberta at 51° latitude.
The Zodiacal Light is caused by sunlight reflecting off cometary dust in the inner solar system. To see it, wait for most of the evening twilight to fade away. The glow that’s left brightening the western sky is the Zodiacal Light.
There’s lots to see just in the western evening sky during the next two weeks. Clear skies!
On Wednesday, January 21 look low in the southwest for a conjunction of the Moon and inner planets.
Mercury is ending its brief evening appearance and proximity to Venus. But this week you can still spot it a binocular field or so below Venus as it descends back toward the Sun.
On Wednesday, January 21, look low in the southwest to sight the thin waxing crescent Moon sitting near Venus and Mercury, forming a wide triangle of inner rocky worlds.
The other rocky planet in the inner solar system, Mars, shines higher up in the evening twilight as a moderate brightness reddish star. The next night, January 22, the waxing Moon will sit beside Mars in a wide conjunction.
Catch the Moon-Mercury-Venus trio early, as they will set an hour or so after local sunset.
Mercury is the dimmer of the two objects in the colourful evening twilight in the enchanted skies of New Mexico.
The top photo is a “normal” lens view of the scene. The photo below zooms in on the pair with a telephoto lens.
Mercury is nearing its greatest angle away from the Sun and will remain near Venus for the next week. So if skies are clear in the early evening, take a look. Mercury is very easy to sight with unaided eyes. If you have not seen the innermost planet, this is a good chance to check it off your “to see” list.
A fact to keep in mind: both planets have probes orbiting them, but both are nearing the end of their missions. Europe’s Venus Express has ended its mission and is about to make its final plunge into the dense Venusian atmosphere.
At Mercury, NASA’s Messenger probe has gained a small reprieve, with it now expecting to impact on Mercury at the end of April, a month later than expected.
The two inner planets, Mercury and Venus, meet up in the dusk sky this weekend.
While I usually devote my blog to showcasing my photos of celestial events and wonders, a New Year’s resolution for me was to expand my blog to include alerts to what’s coming up in the sky. Here’s the first entry for 2015.
This weekend and for the following week (January 9 to 18) look southwest to see brilliant Venus accompanied in a close conjunction by elusive Mercury.
Look low in the southwest between 5 and 6 pm local time.
Venus is brilliant and hard to miss. Yes, that’s Venus not an aircraft!
But Mercury is fainter and is best seen at first in binoculars, as a dimmer star near Venus. Once you sight it, it’ll be easy to see naked eye, as long as your evening sky is clear.
Mercury passes less than a degree from Venus this weekend (the circle shows a typical 7° binocular field).
Here are the two planets as they appeared last Sunday night, when they were farther apart.
After Sunday, Mercury continues to climb higher, separating from Venus, as it moves along the green orbital path shown here. Mercury reaches its highest angle away from the Sun on Wednesday, January 14 – what we call “greatest elongation.”
It then drops back toward the Sun and horizon. We won’t be able to see Mercury well again in the west until early May,
Happy planet hunting!
P.S. Visit my webpage to download a PDF of a free 2015 Sky Calendar.
The thin Moon and Venus hang over the lights of Silver City, New Mexico.
Tonight, December 22, the 24-hour-old crescent Moon shone a binocular field to the right of brilliant Venus. I caught both hanging in the sky over downtown Silver City, set in stunningly clear twilight.
Venus is just beginning what promises to be a spectacular evening appearance in the western sky over the next few months, as it climbs higher.
The Moon, on its shorter cycle around the sky, is emerging into the evening sky for the end-of-year holidays. Watch it wax into a quarter Moon, then to Full, over the next two weeks. Tonight, the glow of Earthshine was prominent lighting the dark side of the Moon.
I shot this from east of the city, using a 135mm telephoto on my Canon 60Da camera.
It was a fine celestial sight to begin the week, as Venus met Jupiter in the dawn sky.
This morning, August 18, Venus and Jupiter appeared just 1/2 degree apart, as close as they’ve appeared to each other since 1999.
The top image shows the wide-angle setting, with Venus and Jupiter tightly paired near the horizon, and the waning Moon above, itself in conjunction with Aldebaran in the Hyades star cluster.
This zooms into the main event, the Venus-Jupiter pairing, as they were emerging from the horizon haze.
I shot this from home, off the back deck, having little ambition at 5 a.m. to venture any further afield. I had planned to shoot this from Dinosaur Park but had second thoughts on the hour drive there and back!
This zooms into the secondary show this morning, the meeting of the waning crescent Moon with the brightest star in Taurus, Aldebaran, and its companion stars in the Hyades star cluster. This is a telephoto lens shot with a fixed camera, no tracking.
Thus begins a fine two weeks of stargazing, weather permitting, as the Moon exits the sky to leave us the summer Milky Way at its best, and dual pairs of planets in the dusk and dawn sky – Mars and Saturn converging in the evening and Venus and Jupiter, now parting ways, in the morning.
The waning Moon and Venus rise together into the summer dawn.
This was the scene this morning, June 24, as the waning crescent Moon rose together in conjunction with Venus, into the dawn sky.
The morning could not have been more clear for a great view of them coming up over the distant hills in southern Alberta.
Pity there was not also some noctilucent clouds, but this morning there was no sign of them. Nor of any aurora through the night, despite promising signs of activity. But the morning show made up for their absence.
The waning Moon and Venus are together again on the morning of July 24, exactly a month from now.
The southern Milky Way arches across the sky, with the centre of the Galaxy overhead at dawn.
This was the sky at 4:30 this morning, as Venus rose in the east (to the right) amid the zodiacal light, and with the Milky Way soaring overhead. This image is a 360° panorama of the scene, with the zenith, the overhead point, at the top centre of the frame.
The location is the Two Styx Cabins, on the border of New England National Park in New South Wales, Australia. The cabin with the light on (I left it on on purpose for the photo) is where I stayed for two nights in splendid isolation.
The panorama is a stitch of 6 frames shot with an 8mm fish-eye lens, each 1-minute exposures on an untracked tripod. I used the PTGui software program to assemble the pan.
Below is an alternative rendering, in spherical format, to create the more classic “fish-eye” view, but one extending well below the horizon. So this is not one image but a stitch of six.
In this version you can more readily see the spectacle of the Milky Way at dawn in the southern hemisphere autumn months, with the bulge of the galactic core directly overhead as seen from this latitude of 30° south. It is a wonderful sight.
This is my last view of it for this trip. Till next year!
Venus shines brightly amid the glow of Zodiacal Light below the Milky Way.
At dawn from Australia this was the last view I saw each night on my run of southern sky observing nights. This is Venus, high in the morning sky, amid the faint pillar of light called the Zodiacal Light. The glow is sunlight reflected off cometary dust in the inner solar system.
Above is the centre of the Galaxy area of Sagittarius. This scene was a wonderful way to end a night of perfect astronomy under the southern stars.
This was the scene at dawn on a cold winter morning as the waning Moon appeared near Venus.
The temperature was only -15° C, so rather pleasant compared to the -30° C it has been the last couple of mornings. On February 26, I awoke at 6 a.m. and ventured into the cold winter morning to shoot the conjunction of the crescent Moon beside Venus above the snowy landscape of southern Alberta.
This was not a particularly close conjunction, at least not for us in North America. But its location low on the southeast horizon made the scene attractive and photogenic.
I aimed the camera the other way, to the southwest, to catch bright Mars (at right near Spica in Virgo) and Saturn (at left in Libra) above the abandoned farmhouse. The stars of Scorpius shine at left.
So we had three planets visible at dawn this morning, a fine sight to start the winter day.
Venus blazes brightly in the moonlit sky in the Chiricahua Mountains of Arizona.
This was the view last night, from Massai Point at the summit of the Chiricahua Mountains, looking southwest toward Venus in the blue moonlit sky. A bright waxing gibbous Moon provided the illumination, turning night into day in these long exposures.
I started my trek around Arizona and New Mexico here, at Chiricahua National Monument two weeks ago, on December 3, when I took some sunset shots.
I end my trip by returning to the Chiricahuas, but now with a nearly Full Moon in the sky.
I saw this scene two weeks ago but didn’t shoot it then. So I returned to capture Venus at the end of a moonlit road, shining above the volcanic rock formations that are the distinctive feature of the National Monument.
The setting Sun sets the sky on fire above the gypsum dunes of White Sands National Monument.
A week ago I was at Chiricahua National Monument in Arizona for the sunset. This was the scene tonight, at White Sands National Monument in New Mexico.
I was on top of a sand dune at the Yucca picnic area on the Loop Road, watching an amazing sunset over the dunes. The clouds lit up on cue and Venus began to appear, visible here left of centre. The horizon was rimmed with a rainbow of twilight tints.
It was a cool evening, and driving on the unpaved Loop Road graded out of the white sand made me feel I was back home driving on a snow-covered back road. But the white stuff wasn’t snow but pure white gypsum.
This image is a High Dynamic Range (HDR) stack of seven exposures taken at 2/3rd stop increments and composited with Photomatix Pro. The technique brings out details in the shadowy landscape while preserving the bright sky. I used the 14mm Rokinon lens on the Canon 5D MkII. Final processing was in Photoshop CC.
The waxing crescent Moon shines above Venus and our adobe house in New Mexico.
Tonight, December 5, the clouds cleared in time for us to catch a glimpse of the crescent Moon above Venus, now at its most brilliant for the year.
They shine above the main house at the Painted Pony Resortwhere I am this week for a stint of astrophotography with a dozen other Canadians escaping winter up north. But it’s cold here, too – it might go down to freezing tonight. Horrors!
For this shot I made liberal use of shadow and highlight recovery at the Adobe Camera Raw stage and in Photoshop to recover as much detail as I could in the overexposed Moon at top. However, the long exposure nicely brings out the stars in the moonlit sky. I also like the contrast of pastel colours.
The colours of twilight illuminate the eroded rock formations of Chiricahua National Monument in southeast Arizona.
This was the scene tonight, Tuesday, December 3, as night fell over the Chiricahua Mountains in Arizona. The landscape below is a maze of eroded towers of ancient volcanic ash. The sky above is one of the finest on the continent for stargazing.
I spent a week or so here back in May 1995, stargazing with friends from the parking lot at Massai Point at the summit of the Chiricahuas. Tonight was my first visit back to that parking lot in 18 years. The evening was just as windy as I remember it in 1995. And as it was back then, Venus was in the western sky tonight.
This was sunset a few minutes earlier when the clouds were lit red by the setting Sun. I used a 24mm lens for this shot but a 14mm lens for the main image above.
Both shots are 7- to 8-frame “high dynamic range” composites that stack images taken in quick succession over a range of exposures from 2 stops under to 2 stops overexposed. The stack of images, when merged with HDR software, captures what one exposure cannot, due to the huge contrast between the bright sky and the dark foreground at twilight. I used Photomatix Pro software to do the merging and tonal balancing. Such amazing digital tools were unheard of and undreamed of in 1995!
Following any total solar eclipse it’s traditional to look for the crescent Moon as it returns to the evening sky.
This was the view on November 6, three days after Sunday’s total solar eclipse when the waxing Moon was near Venus, with both high in our tropical sky as we finish our sail across the Atlantic. As I write this, we have just sighted the lights of Barbados off the port side as we round the north end of the island. It’s our first sighting of any other sign of civilization in two weeks, since we left the Canary Islands.
This view is from the next night, November 7, with the Moon higher and well above Venus, set amid the square rigged sails of the Star Flyer clipper ship.
It’s been a fabulous voyage across the Atlantic, with largely calm seas and beautiful weather on most days.
During last week’s total eclipse, Venus was obvious above the Sun well before the shadow descended and the sky darkened. But during totality other stars and planets appeared.
But I suspect few noticed! During an eclipse your eyes are transfixed on the Sun and its corona. And on the other phenomena of light and shadow happening around you. However, I inspected my wide-angle frames and found faint images of Saturn and the stars Spica, Alpha and Beta Centauri, and three stars of the Southern Cross. I’ve labeled them here but you might not be able to pick them out on screen in the reduced resolution that appears in the blog. Similarly, I doubt anyone saw them visually. If you did you were wasting your time looking at the wrong stuff!
Here was the scene on September 12, with Venus and the Moon in conjunction in the dawn sky.
Orion stands above the trees, and at top is Jupiter amid the stars of Taurus. The star Sirius is just rising below Orion. And both the Moon, here overexposed of necessity, and Venus shine together below the clump of stars called the Beehive star cluster in Cancer. This was quite a celestial panorama in the morning twilight.
This is a stack of two 2-minute exposures taken just as dawn’s light was breaking, so I get the Milky Way and even a touch of Zodiacal Light in the scene, as well as the colours of twilight. Pity I can’t avoid the lens flares!
On the afternoon of Monday, August 13 the waning crescent Moon slid in front of Venus in broad daylight. This sequence captures the disappearance.
It was touch and go getting this as high cloud kept moving through. A few minutes earlier the Moon and Venus were in clear blue sky, but at the time of the occultation, haze whitened the sky and cut down the contrast on an event that takes a telescope to see well. When the sky was clear it was easy to sight the Moon with unaided eyes and therefore focus your eyes on infinity. Venus next to the Moon popped into view, even naked eye. It was a rare chance to easily sight Venus in the daytime. But as it got close to the Moon Venus became harder to see naked eye, and the haze then made it impossible. But through a telescope it was just the opposite — Venus’s bright disk stood out even when the Moon was washed out and invisible.
For southern Alberta the occultation took place at 2:11 pm MDT. I missed seeing it emerge from behind the Moon. I was already inside processing this image.
It has been quite a year for Venus. It’s not over yet, as Venus continues its morning show and has close encounters with the Moon and the star Regulus this autumn.
This was my first look at Venus following Tuesday’s transit. Here, it’s just six degrees west of the Sun as a thin crescent in the afternoon sky. It was a beautiful sight in the eyepiece, far enough away from the Sun to not be in its glare but close enough to still appear as a razor-thin backlit crescent.
Each day now Venus is widening the gap between it and the Sun, shortly to become a brilliant morning star in the eastern sky before dawn through the rest of June, July and August.
I shot these images in broad daylight through a 130mm f/6 refractor. The big image is a full-frame shot with the Canon 60Da and a 2X Barlow lens, for an effective focal length of about 1500mm. The inset is a single frame grabbed from a 30-frame-per-second movie shot with the Canon in its Movie Crop mode, which yields a high-magnification view suitable for planet shooting, but only 640 x 480 pixels. But this mode is certainly ideal for capturing planets, though none ever appear as large as Venus is here. This is an uncommon instance of Venus as close and as large as any planet gets.
The day looked hopeless with not a chance of clear skies. But a small hole opened, revealing Venus on the Sun.
I had seen this sight before, in 2004 from Egypt. But my first reaction upon seeing it again, albeit briefly, was [Expletive Deleted]!!! No photos really provide the visual impression of just how enormous Venus appears on the Sun. We’re used to sunspots (and there were lots today) and some quite large. But nothing we ever see on the Sun matches the size of Venus. The eyepiece impression is of something much larger than the photos show. It’s like Moon illusion at work on the Sun.
It had been hopelessly cloudy all day in Calgary. Interpretive obligations over at the science centre (where we showed the NASA webcast from Hawaii), I hit the highway in search of a clear hole … and found one northeast of the city, one at first that seemed to be wide and stable. I stopped, looked with the filtered naked eye, then drove on seeking slightly less cloud, getting greedy! I should have stopped sooner. By the time I did stop and hurriedly set up the little 80mm refractor telescope, I had about 30 seconds for a great clean view, then switched to the camera. By the time I got it set, clouds were coming out of nowhere and thickening fast. I couldn’t shoot through the solar filter. This is a filterless shot, at 1/8000th second! Clouds provided the natural filtration. Fine! At least I got the camera focused, for a crisp view of Venus next to the clusters of sunspots, something no one alive has seen — in 2004 the Sun was virtually spotless.
So, not a view or photo under the best of conditions, but an experience I am happy to settle for. Now, I just want clear skies in Australia for November’s total solar eclipse. Please!!
A wonderful sight tonight, as I caught Venus in its last days before the transit, shining as a glistening crescent low in the evening twilight.
Venus was visible to the unaided eye after sunset, but not for long. It set soon after the Sun. But for a short while it put on a beautiful show as a large crescent (large for a planet that is), easily resolvable in binoculars and stunning in a small telescope. One could almost make out, for brief moments, the sight of the backlit atmosphere going all the way around the disk. But I suspect it was more imagination at work than reality shining through.
The inset blows up the boxed area, to reveal the crescent-phased disk of Venus, despite this shot being taken with no more than a 200mm telephoto lens. I used a Canon 60Da camera at ISO 100. A plane is flying just below Venus.
So this was May 30, 6 days before the June 5 transit, with Venus 9.5° east of the Sun. How far up to the Sun can we catch it, before it crosses the Sun on Tuesday?
Here’s a last look at Venus before its historic transit across the face of the Sun on June 5.
I took this Monday evening, May 28, with the Sun still up and Venus about 13 degrees east of the Sun but low in my evening sky. Venus appears as a razor-thin crescent, like a tiny “new Moon.” Most of the daylight side of Venus now faces away from us; on the side of Venus turned toward us now all but a sliver of a crescent is dark — we’re looking at the night side of Venus. On June 5, all we will see is this dark side of Venus, appearing in silhouette in front of the Sun’s brilliant disk as Venus moves across the Sun in a transit not to be repeated for another 105 years.
This is a single still-frame grab from a movie shot I shot with the Canon 60Da camera, set in Movie Crop Mode, for a movie 640 x 480 pixels wide. This mode magnified Venus considerably on the frame. I shot this through a small 80mm apo refractor at its f/6 prime focus, so with only 480mm of focal length. But Venus is now so large it doesn’t take a lot of extra magnification to show its disk and phase.
The view through the eyepiece was stunning. The rippling image and sparkling colours, though from distortion in our atmosphere, added to the beauty of Venus, fitting for the goddess of love.
The goddess of love meets the daughters of Atlas — it isn’t often we get to see such a sight!
This is brilliant Venus shining amid the stars of the Pleiades, on the evening of Tuesday, April 3, 2012, with Venus as close to the Seven Sisters star cluster as I can ever remember seeing.
Venus last passed near the Pleiades in April 2004 (though not as closely as it did tonight), and will again in April 2020, reflecting the 8-year periodicity of Venus’s return to the same place in the sky. Thus the 8-year interval between the June 2004 transit of Venus and the one this June in 2012.
I took this through a 92mm aperture refractor, but added the classic spikes of light (which you would normally get only when shooting through a Newtonian reflector telescope) by taping some wire in front of the lens. It’s a technique that’s strictly for show. Some high cloud moving in, supposedly in advance of a big spring snowstorm, added the glow around Venus.
This was one of many superlative Venus events this year. Enjoy the sight of Venus now that it is as high as it ever gets in our northern hemisphere evening sky. We won’t see it quite as good as this again until 2020.
Venus and Jupiter are getting closer! To each other that is.
This was the scene Saturday night, March 10, two days before Venus (on the right here) and Jupiter reach their close conjunction in the evening twilight sky. I’m amazed how high the pair of objects are at sunset, with Venus much higher in the sky than it normally appears. We haven’t seen Venus as well as this since 2004.
This is a scenic prairie nightscape, with some ramshackle buildings from a 1940s vintage farmstead near my house serving as a foreground setting for the sky scene above. Headlights from a passing car provided some handy and warm illumination to contrast with the cold blue above.