The Great Conjunction – December 19th

Two days to go. Saturday, a chance to get some work done and bring out the big guns.

There’s tonight’s moon, for starters. Getting brighter every night!

With the wide angle lens, which gives you a good idea of what you would see with the naked eye, the six-day old moon is still heading east every day, with the two planets getting almost too close to separate with the naked eye. That’s them just to the right of the telephone pole, under the wires. (As with all of these photos, click on the image to see the full-sized image.)

Zooming in a bit we can see that they’ve now VERY close together. Compare these pictures to those from the past couple of weeks that I’ve posted here.

Zoomed all the way in with the 300mm telephoto lens, a one-second exposure shows Saturn above, Jupiter below, with what looks like three of the Galilean moons heading away from Jupiter at the eleven-o’clock position, but is actually four.

(Image from Sky & Telescope’s “Jupiter’s Moons” app)

The three dots we see, from the outside in, are Callisto, Ganymede, and Europa & Io being too close to each other to separate with this equipment.

What happens when we take a longer exposure? Well, we know that the “pinpoints” will start to turn into “trails” because the planet we’re on is spinning. But we’ll also collect a bit more light and detect things that are more dim…

Blow this 3.2-second exposure up. There’s Jupiter and it’s moons, Saturn… and a very faint dot/trail just to the left of Saturn. I do believe that’s Titan, the largest of Saturn’s moons!

So, what about these “big guns?” It was time this afternoon to do some serious cleaning on the big telescope, which has been sitting out on the back porch being neglected for a couple of years. How did that work out?

Gobsmacked. Mind blown. Amazing!

At both low and medium power, the two planets fit into the field of view easily. (They cover a much smaller field of view than the full moon, which just fits into the low power lens’ field of view.) The four Galilean moons are easily separated and visible, even Io and Europa which were so close together at that time. There are bands visible in the atmosphere of Jupiter. Saturn’s rings are clearly separated from the disk of the planet, and Titan is clearly visible. Probably also visible was Rhea, Saturn’s second largest moon.

They’re each just gorgeous to see in live through the telescope all by themselves. To see them both together in the same field of view, along with their moons, it’s almost like some kind of special effects production.

I still have to find the camera attachments and gear that will let me connect my Canon DSLRs directly to the telescope, so I couldn’t try to use those cameras to capture and share the scene. But… I’ve noticed other folks posting pictures they’ve taken just by holding their cell phone cameras up to the telescope lens. Would something that simple work?

It turns out the answer is a “definite maybe.” Since I was expecting absolutely no success, the fact that I got anything at all is better than that. While it still wasn’t full dark, there was a definite vignette effect with the iPhone camera sensor picking up only light from the circular eyepiece opening, so it’s like looking through a peephole.

Oh, and since we’re looking through a Newtonian telescope, the direction up & down is flipped. Saturn’s on the bottom now, and Jupiter’s moons (HEY, we can see the separation between Io & Europa!) extend downward.

The other thing I noticed as it got darker was that, with luck, on the more in-focus images, you can see some elongation of Saturn from the rings. And there to the upper left in this image – Titan.

You will see lots of fantastic pictures from folks with amazing astrophotography setups, big apertures, great camera gear, the whole system finely tuned. Revel in those photos, let yourself go with all of the “oohs” and “aaahs.” I will be right there with you.

And you can (and SHOULD!) go out over the next few nights to see the two planets with your naked eye. Even just as two bright planets become one really bright “double planet” and then separate again, it’s a once in a lifetime spectacle that you can see by yourself. Take the opportunity while you can, it won’t be around for over sixty years again. (I’m looking forward to the repeat, but I’ll be 125 years old by then, so I might not be lugging around as much photography gear.)

If you have a pair of binoculars or a telephoto lens on a camera, use that as well. It’s all good.

Clear skies!



Filed under Astronomy, Photography, Space

3 responses to “The Great Conjunction – December 19th

  1. At last! Got a good view last night with my binoculars. And a photo, which is good enough small. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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