The Half-Astrophysicist Blog

Venus and Neptune

I love taking pretty astro photos as much as the next person. However, I also enjoy taking shots that may not be as visually appealing but that show an interesting phenomena.

One such opportunity arose as the planets Venus and Neptune had a close conjunction on April 12th. At closest approach, they were only 40 arc minutes (2/3 of a degree) apart. They would have been a little farther apart by the time they rose in Tucson that morning, but still pretty close. Unfortunately, the morning of the 12th was cloud so I had to wait for the clouds to break. This morning (the 13th) was nice and clear when my alarm went off. According to Stellarium, they would be about 1 degree, 32 arc minutes apart when I went out this morning.

Again, I fired up the trusty Canon 60D with the 75-300mm zoom lens at 300mm. I didn’t bother with the Skytracker as I figured I should be able to get the pair with a fairly short exposure. I took quite a few shots, but my favorite ended up being a 2 second exposure at ISO5000 (which showed the mountains faintly in the foreground). I put an arrow to help you find Neptune.

Venus-Neptune

 

The star immediately above Neptune is HIP111398 and the two brighter stars to the right are sigma Aquarius (top) and 58 Aquarius (bottom) for those trying to get oriented in the sky.

Although they appear close together in the sky, they are far apart. Venus is a mere 78 million miles away and Neptune is 2.85 billion miles away! Light takes about 7 minutes to reach us from Venus but about 4 hours and 12 minutes to arrive from Neptune! Neptune’s diameter is about twice that of Venus, but is appears dim since it is so far away and receives much less sunlight than Venus.

If you have similar equipment to mine, you can go out and try to get your own photograph of a nearby planet and a distant planet in the same shot for the next few days.

April 13, 2014 Posted by | Astrophotography, Conjunctions, Neptune, Venus | , | 1 Comment

Venus and the Moon

Venus just had its greatest separation from the Sun a few days ago. Hence it stays up a long time after sunset. However, since the ecliptic makes a very shallow angle with respect to the horizon, it is relatively low in the southwest after sunset.

Last night, it was joined by the crescent Moon.

IMG_1728Tonight the Moon will makes it closest approach to Venus for this month so it will definitely be worth checking out.

Another challenge is to see Venus during the day. I blogged about this before (and have posted pics of Venus and the Moon during the day). One of the important things when searching for Venus during the day is to avoid looking at the Sun. Remember I said Venus is about as far from the Sun as it gets? Well, that makes this a very good time to try. I still recommend standing where the Sun is behind a building but you can see the crescent Moon. Find the Moon and look nearby for Venus. The chart below shows for about 1:30pm today in Tucson.

Screen Shot 2013-11-06 at 10.41.53 AM

And of course you can take pics! I have seen people capture Venus during the day with point and shoot cameras so you don’t need fancy equipemnet!

November 6, 2013 Posted by | Astrophotography, Conjunctions, Moon, Venus | , | Leave a comment

Disney Pictures

I visited Walt Disney World in Florida last weekend for the Tower of Terror 10 Mile Run. I went to the parks and had to take pictures of the crescent Moon/Venus pairing in the western sky after susnet.

Sunday night I was at Epcot so used Spaceship Earth as the foreground object. 

IMG_0324 IMG_0330I had to use a wide angle lens to get both of them as they were pretty spread out. I did the ghost image effect of myself in the second pic using a wireless remote.

Monday night they were closer together and I went to the Magic Kingdom to find a place where I could get the castle in the foreground.

IMG_0377 IMG_0389Another chance to catch this pair will happen in early November (but I won’t be a Disney next time!

 

October 9, 2013 Posted by | Astrophotography, Moon, Venus | , | Leave a comment

The Moon, Saturn and Venus

Monday was cloudy here so I missed the very close conjunction of the Moon andVenus. Tuesday was cloudy most of the day but I got a gap in the clouds right after sunset and was treated to the Moon next to Saturn. Venus was below and to the right of  Saturn. Here are a couple of quick pics from last night.

One thing I enjoy about these pics is the way the clouds are illuminated. Notice the clouds near the Moon have a different color due to the nearby Moon illuminating them. The other clouds are illuminated by the last light of the setting Sun and (unfortunately) the lights of Tucson.

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This second shot is slightly wider. Below Venus and right next to the tree you can see the bright star Spica.

1239861_10153194126030104_1804357986_nTonight the Moon will be higher in the sky and the Moon, Saturn and Venus will lie roughly along the same large, sweeping arc.

September 10, 2013 Posted by | Astrophotography, Conjunctions, Saturn, Venus | , , | Leave a comment

Venus and Vesta?

Earlier today, David Dickinson posted on twitter that there was a conjunction of Venus and the asteroid Vesta tonight. They would pass about 0.4 degrees from one another. However, separation between them changes very quickly…I looked it up and by the time it got dark in Tucson, they would be about two degrees apart. I thought, hey, I should try photographing that. Last year I successfully photographed Venus and Uranus. Vesta, however, is fainter and I would be fighting twilight so I knew it would be a tough shot. But I have bought a better camera since last year, a better tripod, and an iOptron Sky Tracker so I can take longer exposures as well.

I had to move a bit from my usual spot to dodge a bright streetlight and then ended up with a couple of power lines in the field of view. And then there is the weather! I had very little time to take pics before Venus dropped into the clouds. I got a few shots. After getting home, I tinkered with the photos in Lightroom a bit. I tried to bring out the fainter objects so the colors may be a little wonky. I then fired up Stellarium and set it to the right time and place and tried to match up the stars in Stellarium with my image to see if I could track down Vesta. First, the Stellarium image.

stellarium-001

So now my image. I have labeled a few of the prominent stars and what I THINK MIGHT be Vesta. Look for a small object right above the “t” in Vesta (click to embiggen).

IMG_7901-labeled

So, does anyone want to confirm I got it or put the kabash on this one?

While looking at Stellarium, I noticed that Ceres is not too far above Venus and they are moving toward a conjunction in the not too distant Ceres will pass 4.8 degrees from Ceres on July 2nd…not quite as close, but I should have a shot at that one and hope for good weather that night!

June 25, 2013 Posted by | Asteroids, Astrophotography, Conjunctions, Venus, Vesta | , , | Leave a comment

The Planets Line Up, Comet PANSTARRS and a Globular Cluster

I was doing a telescope training session for students last night, but of course I took along my camera. I got several photos of the planets and stayed after they left photographing a few other objects.

First, I have been posting a lot about the ongoing planet conjunction. All the planets are now starting to spread out more each night and I thought it might be a nice time to look at where all the planets are in our solar system so I created a little view of the planets (out to Jupiter) in their orbits using Stellarium. Click if you want a bigger version.

stellarium-022

First find Earth (it’s labeled). Mercury is the innermost planet and I couldn’t get it to print the label, but you can see its orbit and find Mercury to the slightly to the right of the Sun. Now find Venus and Jupiter. You might notice you can almost draw a straight line through all four of these objects (not quite, but very close!) This line shows that if you are standing on Earth and look in that direction,you will see Mercury, Venus and Jupiter very close together in the sky which is exactly what has been going on the last couple of weeks. You also will notice this line passes pretty close to the Sun…therefore, we see them close to the Sun in the sky, in this case, after sunset (if they appeared on the other side of the Sun, we would see them in the morning…Mars is about to move into the morning sky).

Now think about the motions. From this perspective, the planets will orbit counterclockwise around the Sun.Planets closer to the Sun move faster and planets farther from the Sun move slower. Therefore, Mercury and Venus are catching up to Earth. As they orbit, the line you have to draw from Earth to Mercury or Venus will get farther away from the Sun so they will appear higher in the sky…until they really start catching up to Earth as they prepare to pass between the Earth and the Sun…then they will appear lower in the sky. This will happen pretty quick for Mercury. On June 13th, it will be as far away from the Sun as it gets this time and turn around and start getting lower in the sky each night (and pass Venus again on the way down as Venus keeps going up!)

Remember Earth moves around the Sun faster than Jupiter so in the not too distant future, Jupiter will appear directly behind the Sun from Earth’s perspective. Therefore, Jupiter is getting lower in the sky each evening and will soon disappear behind the Sun. After that, Jupiter will reappear in the morning sky.

So now that you know a little bit about why the planets have been doing this dance, let’s get to the latest pics from last night. They planets appeared almost in a straight line. Mercury is at the top,Venus is in the middle and Jupiter at the bottom.

954812_10152844283225104_1954186793_n575706_10152844283300104_1439697180_n

By the time the students left, it was totally dark so I went for Comet PANSTARRS again. I have the tracking mount and decided to push the exposure further this time. I got a little trailing (not a perfect alignment) but was still pretty pleased with the pics I got showing its nice long anti-tail. I honestly have no idea whey more people aren’t trying to photograph this…I know there are more skilled people out there with better equipment than I have…if I can do something this nice, they should be cranking out some jaw dropping stuff.

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Finally, I turned my sights toward something a little different. There is a globular cluster (M4) very close to the bright star Antares. A globular cluster is a gravitationally bound collection of 100,000 stars or so. M4 is one of the closer globular clusters at about 7,200 light years away. Globs (as the are affectionately known) consist of very old stars and this cluster is over 12 billion years old. Since it is so closer to Antares and close to Earth, I thought it might make a good target to photograph.

378101_10152844297420104_1691406866_nAntrares is the bright orange-ish star near the center with the cluster to the upper right of Antares. Not bad for a first try. Antrares is one of the brightest stars in the sky and is a red giant, hence the color. You also see a lot of background stars. Antares is in Scorpius, one constellation over from the center of our galaxy in Saggitarius so you get a higher density of background stars the closer you get to the plane of our galaxy.

I only have two more nights to get potential photos here before I head up to Alaska for a couple of weeks where it will never get dark!

May 30, 2013 Posted by | Astrophotography, Comets, Conjunctions, Jupiter, Mercury, Venus | Leave a comment

A Helicopter at Sunset and the Triple Conjunction

Just a couple of quick pics. Tonight at sunset, a helicopter flew near the top limb of the Sun. A little luck and a little alertness allowed me to snap an interesting photo.

8863110130_c2fa4e55cd_oNote the little bright spot by the helicopter. I believe this is a small mirage of the Sun caused by sunlight that is refracted by the hot exhaust fromt he helicopter (the mirage sure looks like it is right in the exhaust plume!)

For the planet conjunction, I decided to find some nice saguaros for the foreground tonight.

8862487881_9944afb03e_oMercury is noticeably higher. Tonight will be the closest approach between Jupiter and Venus. Jupiter will get lower each night as Venus continues to slowly rise each night. Fun to watch the constantly changing positions.

May 28, 2013 Posted by | Astrophotography, Conjunctions, Jupiter, Mercury, Sunset, Venus | , | Leave a comment

Venus and the Moon at Dawn

I just got a Canon 60D and so I had a little extra motivation to get up this morning to photograph Venus and the Moon (that and I am trying to shift my sleeping schedule for the Disney Marathon Sunday). I am glad I did. They were a lovely pair this morning and I was happy to take my first astrophotos with a new camera.

530575_10152394584910104_87062599_n 312356_10152394584895104_1418558986_n

Venus is nearing the end of its morning appearance and will be passing behind the Sun on March 28th and moving into the evening sky a few weeks after that. So early risers should enjoy Venus now before it gets too low to observe.

January 10, 2013 Posted by | Astrophotography, Conjunctions, Moon, Venus | | Leave a comment

Morning Planets

The last three mornings the Moon has been passing through a nice gathering of planets. Saturn is the highes in the sky, bright Venus beneath it and Mercury hugging the horizon. I have gotten up early each morning to snap a few shots and then crawl back into bed. Here is a gallery of the last three days. You can watch the Moon get lower in the sky each day.

Mercury is dropping rapidly (when I got out there this morning, it hadn’t quite cleared the mountain even though it was the same time as yesterday). Venus will get a little lower each day and Saturn a little higher each day so they are moving apart from each other.

You might notice that there aren’t a lot of lights near me. This is Tucson…I didn’t go anywhere except to the end of the courtyard in my townhome complex. This really is the view I get from where I live (I even look out the window at the mountains to be sure the sky is clear before I bother getting dressed!)

December 12, 2012 Posted by | Astrophotography, Conjunctions, Mercury, Saturn, Venus | , | 2 Comments

Occultation of Venus

An unusual thing happened earlier today: The Moon passed directly between the Earth and Venus. If you were at the right place at the right time, you could see Venus disappear on behind one side of the Moon and watch it reappear from the other side about an hour later. Fortunately, San Diego is one of the right places and since all the sessions I had to attend at the meeting ended at noon, I could be outside by the 1:42pm disappearance.

An event like this called an occultation. The Moon passes near Venus about once a month. Usually, the Moon passes just to one side or the other of Venus. Occasionally, it passes right over Venus. That’s what happened today.

I was outside and had my Canon Digital Rebel Xti with the 75-300mm zoom lens set up. The sky in San Diego was a bit milky white (instead of deep blue) which made the Moon harder to find and good contrast between the Moon and the sky harder to achieve. I also had trouble focusing at the disappearance (but not so much the reappearance). Still, I managed to get a reasonably good shot right before Venus vanished behind the Moon.

 

Venus disappeared behind the lit side of the Moon. A little over an hour later (2:49pm), Venus reappeared behind the dark side of Venus. There were some nearby clouds and I was watching them creep closer to the Moon as the time approached. However, they held off and I got a whole series of pics of the reappearance. Here is one of my favorites.

 

I have a lot of pics of the reappearance. If I can get some time, I might try to animate them to watch it reappear.

Now you might think I missed out on the event by photographing it. Not quite. I have a cable release for my camera. I was holding the cable release in one hand and shooting these pics while holding a pair of binoculars in the other hand to enjoy the spectacle for myself!

 

 

August 14, 2012 Posted by | Astrophotography, Daytime Astronomy, Occultations, Venus | , , | 2 Comments