Saturday, November 29, 2008

Catching the Celestial Dance

I've been spending the past few days transcribing, but I've also kept my alarm set so that I can catch the coolness outside. And here in balmy Florida, I'm not talking about the temperature....(continued)

I spent much of Tuesday, November 25, at the Homosassa Public Library. The sun had set by the time I left, leaving me a brightly-lit parking lot fronting a tennis court and a pair of planets hanging in the western sky.

Jupiter and Venus, 25 Nov. 2008

Jupiter is near the top center of this photo. Venus is the brighter object below and to the right (in the 5 o'clock position if Jupiter were the center of a clock face). The other spots are light distortions. That fenced-in area is the tennis court.

According to this article at, Jupiter, Venus, and the Moon are headed for a closely-knit celestial gathering come December 1. Writes Joe Rao, "The two planets will appear a similar distance apart on both the evenings of Nov. 30 and Dec. 1. They will be so close you'll be able to stretch your arm out and, with your thumb, blot both of them out."

Rao continues, "After Dec. 1, like two celestial ships passing in the night, the planets will slowly separate, but there will still be one more eye-catching sight to see. For on that very same evening, those who gaze toward the south-southwest sky for up to about two hours after sunset arise will be treated to a spectacular sight as Venus, Jupiter and the crescent moon cluster closely together. The trio will form a wide isosceles triangle, with Venus at the vertex."

Half the fun of taking these shots is watching how clearly the planets are moving with respect to each other, night after night. After the light-drenched parking lot I took to my driveway:

Jupiter and Venus, 26 Nov. 2008

Here are the planets on Wednesday, November 26. Brighter planet Venus is 4.7 degrees to the lower right of Jupiter. According to the Abrams Planetarium Night Sky Notes, the two planets will be within 5 degrees of each other until December 5, 2008.

Lights Earthly and Beyond, 26 Nov. 2008

I've tweaked the balance on this shot from the same night, so as to bring out the tree silhouettes. My neighbor's holiday lights are at lower left.

I watched the planets start to jockey for position on the following night.

Jupiter and Venus, 27 Nov. 2008

Suddenly Venus has moved directly below Jupiter on Thursday, November 27! The two planets are now less than 4 degrees apart. I took this shot from the road by my house.

Jupiter and Venus, 28 Nov. 2008

I returned to my driveway for these shots on Friday, November 28. Venus and Jupiter are now just 3 degrees apart. In the left-hand photo I've altered the balance so as to bring out tree and roof silhouettes. My neighbor's lights are at lower left. The right-hand, zoomed-in photo is unaltered except for cropping. Venus, the lower and brighter planet, seems very close to a star in Sagittarius. The star is just below and to the left of Venus in the zoomed shot, particularly in the large view.

That brings me to Saturday, November 29. Clouds have begun to move in and storms are predicted in my area for tomorrow and Monday. That may make this my last night for photographing the dance -- but I'm keeping my fingers crossed that we might have a break in the weather.

Jupiter and Venus, 29 Nov. 2008

Jupiter is now above and to the right of Venus -- and the two planets are now 2.4 degrees apart. Tomorrow night they will reach their closest approach, only 2 degrees distant from each other as viewed from the Earth. A pink-tinged cloud from sunset is still visible in this shot, which is unaltered except for cropping.

I altered the balance in this next shot to bring out more silhouettes and the encroaching clouds.

Jupiter and Venus, 29 Nov. 2008, Balance-altered

As luck would have it, a short jog to the middle of the road gave me a sight line closer to the horizon and let me catch Jupiter, Venus, and a sliver of waxing crescent Moon only 5 percent of full!

Jupiter, Venus, and Moon, 29 Nov. 2008

The Moon is just above and to the right of my neighbor's holiday lights. Here's a larger view:

Jupiter, Venus, and Moon, 29 Nov. 2008

Tomorrow night, a slightly larger crescent will near the pair, when Jupiter and Venus make their closest approach to each other. "Venus and Jupiter won't be closer to each other until February 2010 at which time they'll be lower into the twilight glow," according to the Abrams Planetarium site. Then, on Monday night, the Moon will be above and to the left of the planets. "The three brightest objects in the night sky are within 4 degrees for this spectacular gathering," says the site.

I'll continue to hope for clear skies, but whether or not I get them I've had a blast following these wanderers* around.

* Our word "planet" comes from the Greek word planetes, meaning "wanderer."

Happy skygazing!

Covenant, the first volume in the Deviations Series, is available from Aisling Press, and from AbeBooks, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Book Territory, Borders,,,, DEAstore,,,,, Powell's Books, and Target. The Deviations page has additional details.


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