Missed Conjunction

The evening of August 27, 2016, was scheduled to feature the conjunction of the planets Venus and Jupiter shortly after sunset, a marvellous mere ½ degree apart, the same as the apparent diameter of the Moon, which is pretty darn close in a big, big sky. That’s a must-see in my book! As a last minute decision I went for the best nearby vantage point I could think of, which was the west side of Slottsfjellet (“Castle Mountain”) in Tønsberg, a mere 20 minute drive from home. I was gonna shoot me some planets!

Hiding behind them there cloudses

Although the sky was mostly clear and outstandingly beautiful with the sunset and all, I missed the conjunction on account of lovely but otherwise annoying clouds on the horizon. On the upside, on account of wearing shorts, I have several brand new mosquito bites to keep me entertained the next few days.

Screenshot from Star Walk overlayed on camera view

I followed the planets until they were well below the horizon. Not only were they hiding behind clouds the whole time, the sky was still bright enough that they probably wouldn’t have been very visible anyway.

According to Space.com, “the next time Venus and Jupiter will get this close will be in November 2065,” by when I will be a whopping 96 years young. Bring it on!

In the mean time I’ll just leave you with this.

Screenshot from Star Walk overlayed on camera view

The sky beneath my feet.
Darkness and light.
And grass.



Planets Hugging Virgo

The celestial trio of Venus, Mars and Jupiter are spreading wider apart, but they are still slightly dominating their part of the south to south-eastern sky in the last hour before sunrise. Right now they’re pretty much hugging the constellation Virgo. Here is what my daughters and I spotted on our way to our respective buses to school and work in the early morning hours of December 15th, with a cool and clear sky above us.

Photos © Bjørnar Andre Haveland
Click images to see larger versions.

VMJ spanning Virgo

The original iPhone 5s shot, at 07:48 (my attempt to use the Nikon was thwarted by the bus arriving right on time for a change). On most screens this will show up as far too dark to see much more than the bright specks of Venus (left) and Jupiter (right). With a bit of luck, optimal illumination, fabulously good eyesight and an impressively clean monitor, you’ll just possibly spot Mars as a barely distinguishable pixel somewhere in the middle.

VMJ spanning Virgo

With the exposure adjusted in the extreme, however, Mars and a neighbouring star both show up reasonably clearly, Mars being the upper right of the two, almost precisely smack bam in the middle between Venus and Jupiter.

VMJ spanning Virgo

Labels, for clarity, because mostentimes a bright dot in the sky looks just like any other bright dot in the sky, of which there are a good many. The one labelled Spica is the brightest star in the constellation Virgo, and as far as I can tell from diagrams, lacking a degree in stellar anatomy, it seems to constitute the left hip joint of the virgin in question, assuming she is facing us, otherwise it has to be the right hip joint and we’re looking at her bum. Shame on us!

VMJ spans Virgo

Screenshot from astronomy app Star Walk, showing the same section of the sky, with the planets and surrounding stars in their respective locations, for reference. Incidentally, the bright white orb to Mars’ immediate left is the asteroid 1998 KY26, about 15 metres across, which passed within 800,000 km from Earth on June 8, 1998, but is now about 1.51 AU away, almost as far as Mars, at 1.84 AU. And no, I’m afraid you won’t be able to spot it with the naked eye (in comparison, the Chelyabinsk meteor in 2013 was estimated to be about 20m across).


Within the next couple of weeks Venus will drift even further away from the others, so that around December 30th, Mars will be precisely dead center. At that time, the waning Moon will also come swooshing through the trio, possibly making for some nice conjunctions as its crescent grows thinner. On January 6th, the Moon, with just a sliver of a crescent left, catches up with Venus and Saturn, so if you can actually see Saturn, it’ll likely be a lovely little group.

VMJ spans Virgo - meteor composite

We also saw not one but two shooting stars in that precise part of the sky, a few minutes apart, probably leftovers from the Geminids shower during the night. Now, I hasten to point out that this is a composite of the above original, and a meteor trail taken from another picture. Seeing as meteors wait for no man, and to first spot and then photograph one in the same take requires more time than any meteor is willing to hang around for, I had to resort to low-level Photoshop cheating in order to illustrate the event. My apologies.

Planetary Diagonal

2015 © Bjørnar Andre Haveland. Click for larger image.

Eastern sky at 05:51 today (above). Had a lovely view of the crescent moon, with several planets all lined up as if begging to be taken pictures of. Now, in a hurry, as always, to get to the bus to work on time, I couldn’t spare the moments I would have needed in order to fish out the Nikon and play with settings, so this iPhone shot was the best I could do under the circumstances. Terribly annoying, to be honest. Of course the iPhone can in no way do the actual sight any justice at all.

This near 45° line-up consists of (from bottom left) the moon, Venus (brightest), Mars (that barely visible wee li’l smudge of light above and left of Venus) and Jupiter at the upper right.

The thin, crescent moon was precisely the right brightness for this group picture. It’s a shame my equipment wasn’t up to it. I can always try again tomorrow, and make sure I bring both the time and the tools required for the job, but the moon moves quite a distance in the sky from day to day, counter-clockwise*, so tomorrow at this time it will still be well below the horizon. I’m sure that yesterday and the day before that, it was even better, but I wasn’t there to see it. Timing, alas, is everything.

* Clockwise would have been so much better, in which case I would simply have quietly decided to wait and instead bring you the splendidest pictures I that could muster tomorrow.

2015 © Bjørnar Andre Haveland. Click for larger image.

Here (above) I’ve boosted the exposure and contrast somewhat to make Mars a little more visible next to Venus. It’s still barely more than a bright pixel, almost lost in noise, but at least a bit more noticeable than the faint smudge in the first picture.

2015 © Bjørnar Andre Haveland. Click for larger image.

Off the bus, an hour and a half later, give or take, even though I had sufficient time before starting work to take more pictures, the sky had grown far too bright for it. Mars was not at all visible, and Venus and Jupiter just barely so, even the moon was struggling to make itself known against the morning light. They’re still there, though, except for Mars. Can you find them?

Still, weather permitting, I’ve half a mind to bring the tripod for the Nikon tomorrow, along with a few minutes extra time, and at least capture the planets, if not the moon.

If the Moon gave its place to …

I stumbled across this little animated gif (on right), posted by my friend The Old Wolf on Facebook.

I thought it looked neat, but I seriously wanted a better look at it, and so I set out to find the original on YouTube, and here it is, in somewhat better quality:

Photographer Ron Miller had something of the same idea, using still photos, but beautifully done. Click the photo below to watch the whole series at dailymail.co.uk.

It brought me in mind of Larry Niven’s novel “World Out Of Time“, in which the Earth, in a very distant future, has been relocated to an orbit around Jupiter.

But it made me wonder where the Earth would actually be located in relation to the planets in question. I mean, Jupiter is pretty big. Would we be skimming its upper atmosphere? And would we be ice-surfing the rings of Saturn? How about colliding with the bigger moons of those giants?

So I looked up orbits and planet measurements on Wikipedia, and put together this little schematic. Click for full size view.

I haven’t bothered with the smaller moons yet, but we’re well clear of the bigger ones. The closest we get is a fly-by with Io. But I would be worried about the increased gravitation and the most likely catastrophic consequences that would have for ocean tides. Living along the coastlines could become more of a hairy business than it is now.

Except with Pluto, of course, because that one is even smaller than our own Moon 😉


Update: So, whether or not you actually signed up for the one-way mission to Mars, you might still want a look at how far it actually is. In that case distancetomars.com might do the trick for you.

Venus and Jupiter conjunction on Thursday

On Thursday, March 15, at 10:37:46 UTC (that’s just a little before lunchtime in London) planets Venus and Jupiter will be in conjunction, only just over 3 degrees apart in the sky. Now, for Londoners, and the rest of us in Europe and nearby longitudes, this means that the conjunction happens on the other side of the planet. It’s unfortunate, but there’s not much to be done about that – unless you’re willing to hop on a plane, in which case booking a ticket now is probably a tad late anyway.

Your best bet if, like me, you’re on the wrong side of the planet, is to look up into the sky on the evening of Wednesday 14th or Thursday 15th, from just after sunset and for maybe four hours more. At the moment those two planets are moving very slowly relative to each other, so the difference between the actual conjunction, and the evening just before or after, won’t be that big.

I like to keep in mind that those are other worlds that I’m watching, far out there, but still our closest neighbours. Venus, the brightest of the two, is the nearest. It’s about the same size as the Earth, but has no moon, and is covered in a permanent, white layer of clouds. Jupiter is 11-12 times as wide, but seven times as far away, so it looks smaller and fainter from here. But if you grab a pair of binoculars, a small telescope, or take a picture using a 200mm t0 300mm camera lens, you’ll be able to see four small moons around it; it’s a whole little system of worlds to itself.

I won’t put up times for all time zones; I’ll leave those bits of arithmetics to you. But you don’t need me to tell you when the sun goes down around your place. As soon as it does, put your eyes to the sky and look for those two bright spots. You can’t miss them.

%d bloggers like this: