Planetary Conjunction – July 12th

Celestial mechanics, right there in plain sight. Yesterday’s photos + 24 hours (give or take a few minutes).

Mars is fading, as expected. Needed binoculars to see it, and you’ll probably have to click to see the full-sized image to see it here.

There it is! Just about eight hours from their (apparent!) closest approach to each other. The word “apparent” is key here. Remember, we’re all gravitationally bound (for the moment) to giant balls of rock, water, and gas, which are in turn spinning on their axes, which in turn are in orbit at thousands of miles an hour around a small, yellow, G-class star, so while they look close together from this particular point of view, they’re actually 74,400,000 miles apart from each other.

This is much closer, which is why even with a relatively simple and cheap camera system you can see craters and other features.

Aside from all of that, it’s simply very pretty to look at in the cooling evening sunset.

Then our 3rd rock from the Sun spins from in front of this view back over my head and behind us, causing the planets and Moon to appear to sink below the western horizon.

There they go, down behind the trees! Once they get down into the muck and coastal haze and we’re looking through a thick chunk of the atmosphere, it’s amazing how much the color from Mars varies every second or two. Mostly a dark orange, but sometimes much less red color and sometimes almost white for a second or two.

While the Moon, exposed to bring out detail at the terminator, is a fingernail crescent…

…and exposed to bring out the Earthshine, starts to also share the sky with some of the other background stars in the constellation Leo. (That’s Al Jabbah [Eta Leonis] to the upper left of the Moon, a white supergiant star about 2,000 light years from Earth.)

If you couldn’t look tonight or tried and got foiled by the weather or clouds, try to look tomorrow night! Let me know if you saw this!

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Filed under Astronomy, Photography, Space

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