Posts Tagged ‘Venus’

Shivered on Gooseberry with a small group of mostly new observers as the clouds gave us just enough of a gap to catch Venus, a slither of a Moon a mere 1.4 days old, and Mercury beside it shortly after sunset.

I really didn’t think this one was going to work. The CSC forecast yesterday was for clouds at sunset today. The forecast this morning was for it to be clear – but by noon  the forecast had changed back again to cloudy. At 5 pm  the satellite showed clouds moving in from the northwest, but many were drying up as they got here – but more and thicker ones were on the way.

I sent out an email to those interested advising that it really did not look promising. But I said I would be there on the off chance we got a lucky break. I really didn’t expect anyone to join me. Well, folks got the email and decided to come anyway, so there were seven of us there and as the sun ducked into a bank of clouds about 10 minutes before setting it really did not seem good. But there was some blue above the clouds and about 15 minutes after sunset Venus popped out in it – and and almost at the same time the crescent moon was easily visible in binoculars and could be picked up with your naked eye as well – but no Mercury, though it was a bit less than a degree from the Moon.

However, when I turned the 80mm refractor on the Moon, there was Mercury, right where it should be, so every one got a chance to take a look. It was a mere dot, mind you, but clearly visible. But no amount of coaxing could bring it out of the haze enough to see in binoculars, let alone with the naked eye. Eventually it was joined by Mars ( almost overhead)  and Saturn (high to the southeast), so we had four of the five naked eye planets forming a nice arc across the sky and giving everyone a good sense of where the ecliptic is.

But cold! i was really unprepared – having cautioned others to dress warmer than they thought they should, I didn’t.  There was a wicked  southeast wind down there that was cold as the dickens, so I wasn’t too disappointed when the encroaching clouds made it impractical to stay too late.  😆  Still, I counted it a minor, but fun piece of outreach. (In March we had a similar view – but much clearer skies and a Moon just 24 hours old.)


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I know it sounds crazy, but I sort of feel responsible for the universe – especially when I send out an email inviting people to join me at Gooseberry to watch  a couple of things I’ve never seen and I’m not at all sure are seeable from this light-polluted region. Guess what – they are! Especially when the weather cooperates, and boy did it.

Temperatures were comfortable, the wind was calm, the ocean gorgeous. And ten of us got to see first Venus emerge in the twilight, then the slimmest sliver of a one day old – yes, exactly 24-hours old – moon. Now Venus is nice, but old hat.  I would have been very disappointed if we couldn’t see it. But that moon – well, I’ve simply never seen one so young. And this was topped by something I felt was even less likely – a clear view of the zodiacal light! But first, here’s a photo of Venus and the one-day moon. Click on it for a larger version and you can see the Moon over to the right of Venus and a bit below it. We couldn’t quite fit them both in the same binocular field.

Venus and the one-day-moon to it's right. Click image for larger view. Pucture was taken from Gooseberry Island, westport, MA, On March 16, 2010.

We all saw Venus and the Moon with an 80mm scope, with binoculars, and with the naked eye. (To get an idea how unusual this is – Spaceweather.com is urging people to go out tonight – the 17th – and see an especially thin, crescent moon. But it will be two days old then 😉

We waited until about 80-minutes after sunset – just as Venus was setting as a matter of fact, to  see the zodiacal light quite plainly – it was a beautiful pearly pyramid extending from near the horizon to the Pleiades. In fact, where it seemed easiest to see was just under the Pleiades – but the contrast with the dark sky to either side made it quite easy to detect. This was great because I really was afraid there might be a light dome from Newport, RI that would cancel it out. Not so. While there was some interference near the horizon, you could trace the zodiacal light from around the Hyades to roughly 15 degrees above the horizon –  and as a bonus we watched the ISS go across the sky from the northwest and vanish just as it reached the handle of the Big Dipper.

It’s hard to believe, but what we were looking at was perhaps one dust particle every five miles! For a more detailed explanation, see this post.

Just a perfect observing session with lots of wonderful folks to share it.

Addendum: My friend Bob Magnuson, a keen and experienced observer who was home sick unfortunately, commented:

The zodiacal light has always eluded me, and I thought it was the fault of the area’s light pollution, too, but the low humidity in the upper atmosphere and dead-calm air last night must have done the trick. The only icing on the cake would have been some distant auroras, which were forecast as a medium possibility last night. Well, congratulations, you’ve introduced some folks to a sight seldom seen even by enthusiastic amateurs around here. Nicely done!

Ted Blank, an experienced observer form north of Boston whose on my email list for these notification wrote:

I saw it too! Venus  with the sliver of moon (cheshire cat grin?) under it. Very neat!

Cheshire Cat indeed!

Rose, one of the star-hoppers, observe from Tiverton RI and writes;

It sounds like you had a good time at Gooseberry. The weather was near perfect.  Though I didn’t see the zodiacal lights _ at least as far as I can be sure _ Venus, the moon and a few long thin horizontal black clouds put on quite a show. Because I could easily pop in and out of the house, I was able to keep track of the time line. Here’s my version of the show.

7:26  –  Venus and the smiley face moon were surprisingly visible. I could see them as I stood in my kitchen finishing up the dinner dishes.  I went out with my binoculars and could see the entire moon above the smile with my binoculars while a plane flew right through the body of the moon on it’s way to Warwick.  There was a thin black line moving north to south (from my perspective) under the moon and at first I thought it could be a flock of geese, but later realized it was a cloud.  I noticed a couple more thin clouds forming below the moon.

7:48  –  I thought I had lost the moon but it dropped out from behind one of those thin clouds falling toward the colorful sky near the horizon.  It didn’t take a very wide cloud to conceal it. The smile looked more reddish orange than yellow now.

7:54  –  The moon was about 1 diameter from the horizon and looking like an orange smile passing through the last strip of black cloud.

7:58  –  The “smile” touched down and quickly disappeared.  The moon appeared to be further north when it set than when it first came into view and the distance between Venus and the moon appeared to increase as they headed for the horizon.

I did a little more prowling around  reinforcing my memory of all the objects that I am familiar with, while hoping to get a glimpse of the zodiacal lights. I did notice that the sky seemed to be a bit lighter but decided that it must be light from the sunset still coming through. It’s possible that it was the lights that I saw but because I didn’t realize it, then it doesn’t really count  – to me.  I will try again tonight.

Thanks for the heads up,

I’m not sure how much  going in and out she did, but to see the zodiacal light you need perfect wetaher, minimal light pollution and complete dark adaption -preferably for half an hour or so.

After that, the key for us was to look at the sky behind Orion and Canis Major and compare it to the sky beneath the Hyades and Pleiades – moving your head back and forth among these two views shwed a remarkable difference in contrast. The sky beneath the Pleiades was much like the sky to the east of Canis Major where the winter Milky Way dove for the ocean.

Paul, another star-hopper, summed it up nicely it was not just a

homerun..it was a game winning grandslam!!
It was a night to remember and savor for a long time!

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I felt it first as I tracked down M27, the Dumbell nebula.

M27 - Driftway video image.

M27 - Driftway video image.

This shell blown off by a dying star suddenly looked more than three dimensional to me with faint stars blinking on and off at the edge of my vision as they shone through it. Here, I thought, is the universe as kaleioscope. For this star the kaleioscope has been turned, the pieces are being scattered – and in time they will come together again with other material and form a new pattern – perhaps a star, perhaps a planet – and perhaps they will find their way into the formation of life, perhaps even intelligent life. To paraphrase John Dobson, give it 3 billions years or so and it will be chewing bubblegum.

And this is why I get up at 1 am when I think it might be clear. This morning it wasn’t. No large clouds, but transparency was horrible – until about 2:45 am when I check one more time and am met by cool and clear air, though not all that steady. I grab my tea, still warm in its insulated cup, and the Ethos eyepiece case and head for the observatory. In just a couple of minutes the 120mm is taking in the Andromeda Galaxy, as well as M32 and M110, its companion galaxies. They all fit in the 17mm Ethos eyepiece when used on the 120mm Skywatcher. Nice. But no magic. I rotate the dome about 60 degrees. The last time I remember looking for M27 there was a lot greater distance between Albireo and the point of Sagitta – the arrow. That’s the path I follow when homing in on M27. Of course the distance hadn’t really changed, but everything looks so much smalller as it passes the meridian. When Ilooked at it before it was much nearer the eastern horizon.

I’m not explaining it, am I? I can’t. The feeling – the knowing – is ineffable in the final analysis. All i can say, is it’s not for the seeing – the seeing with your eye. That’s only th ebeginning. It’s for the seeing with your mind’s eye, supplement by the whole experience.  The result I can’t articulate, but it’s there this morning. I couldn’t squeeze meaning out of a galaxy 2.5 million light years away – but I could out of this gas cloud. However, I didn’t spend nearly as much time with it as I would have liked, for Jupiter and Neptune were moving through an open gap in my trees to the south and I really wanted a good look at them both.

A real suze comparison of Jupiter and Neptune.

A real suze comparison of Jupiter and Neptune.

And as I thought it would, the 10mm Ethos nicely took in both. But Jupiter is so bright I quickly abandoned the 10mm for the 6mm and as I came in tight on Neptune, was able to exclude Jupiter from the fov. It is so small! – 2.3 seconds of arc, about one twentieth of Jupiter’s apparent diameter right now. You can tell its a disc and its dominant blue color is – well prominent. But your mind wrestles with its true size, far closer to Jupiter’s true size than its apparent size would indicate. I can see the disc, but . . . once more it grabs me. Another moment where I feel I have a legitimate grasp of what I am seeing. I can picture the huge, frozen globes in my mind – memories of images taken by spacecraft. There is and overwhelming feeling of reality brought about I suspect by how close the two planets are to one another. Nice. But the trees soon close in on both planets and I moved on to the double cluster in Perseua. It is captured nicely in the 17 mm with plenty of shoulder room, yet I don’t stay but a moment because dawn is starting to wash them out and I have an urge to move to the “captain’s seat” for Space Station Earth – my little area where I have a couple of chairs that give me a great view of the eastern horizon, Here there’s a real sense of sitting at the viewport of a space station where the scene constantly – but very slowly – changes.

I take my tea and the low-power, wide angle (11 degrees) Bushnel binoculars. And the little excursion is well worth it, for not only does Venus dominate this section of sky, but it is forming a beautiful triangle right now witht Mars and the Pleiades. And here to the naked eye comes that third revealing event of the morning, for I can easily see the true relationship between Venus and Mars, as well as our own place between them. Your mind has to do twist and turns here and they need to be done effortlessly. It’s a cosmic high dive, of sorts, and practice helps. Here’s what I mean.

The Orrery view of the inner planets on the morning of July 5, 2009 when these observations were made. (from:

The Orrery view of the inner planets on the morning of July 5, 2009 when these observations were made. (from: http://www.fourmilab.ch/cgi-bin/Solar

In front of you in the sky is a simple triangle. Venus is the dominant object, the rough twin of Earth, absolutely brilliant as sun light bounces off its cloud-shrouded body. That’s easy to visualize. It’s also easy to see the scene from “above” – that is from the perspective shown by an orrery where you look down on the orbits of all the planets. I can place Earth at its correct location and see Venus off in the distance, oriented to us and the Sun in such a way that it shines like a quarter moon displaying to us half of its lit side, half of its dark one. (This is fresh in my mind from having looked at it in the scope during twilight of the morning before.) And in that same mental picture, I see Mars, almost half its size and diminished even more for being in an orbit far more distant, yet still nearly in a line of sight, from our perspective, with Venus. And between the two I can see our future path. Then I switch to the Pleiades and here the line of sight game continues – Mars is to the right of Venus in this mental model, the Pleiades to the left – but oh my, the gap is huge! We’re talking perhaps 7 light minutes between us an Venus and maybe twice that between us and Mars – but when it comes to this most favored of star clusters, light has been traveling for 400 years – that is something in the order of 40 million times as far away. I have a sense of a huge zooming out – that’s all. The scale between the solar system’s little playground and the stars is too great and my mental model crumbles.

But it’s been a good morning. I feel so fully awake with all these impressions rolling in on me whole. These are the experiences I seek. They are nothing less than revelations. Yes, they remain beyond my ability to fully share – but they are certainly worth having and I am well paid for having ogttenupa nd gotten out at this hour.

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Well I have, what is for me, a complete Ethos set now and a few hours ago I got a quick peek using the 120mm Skywatcher in twilight.

“Wow” is appropriate 😉 I could see quite quickly that of the 3 new eyepieces (17,10, 6) the 10 and 6 are going to get a lot of use on this scope and become practically all that I use. The 17 – well, I’ve just bever beent hat thrilled with low-power, wide-field views and I am stillnot – unless, of course, you have an object that calls for it, such as the Double Cluster.

Yes, conditions could have been better. If I had only gotten out a few minutes earlier! But it was 4 am and we were already quite obviously out of astronomical twilight so that a quick look at M31 was unsatisfying – too much twilight there. And by the time I swung around to M57 in the west it too was pretty much wiped out. So I settled for the Double Double – just great in the 6mm (150X) and even later, brilliant Venus (like a first quarter moon) and Jupiter – just magnificent.

The field of view is, of course, impressive, but I expected that. What I wasn’t sure would be there – but is – is the all aorund quality I’ve come to take for granted with the Naglers. But getting back tot he fov – to cleanly split the Double Double so that someone seeing it for the first time would know they were looking at four stars – and still have plenty of breathing room around it – is a real pleasure. The 17mm gives close to a 2-degree fov, enough to capture the Double-Double on one side and Vega on the other, but at 53X a split would be more a stunt than anything useful. The 10mm did split it. But the best view was witht he 6mm and even with the 6mm, the space it occupies is more than 10 times what you need for the Double-Double, so it gives the split plenty of context and you have plenty of time to get a good look as it drifts through.

I was impressed with the view of Venus, but Jupiter blew me away. Seeing was good, but by now we were in bright twilight with only Jupiter and Venus obvious to the naked eye. Still, I could see three moons and several marking on the planet and colors I’ve never seen before. This is testimony to both the eyepieces and the 120mm Skywatcher, of course, plus to the fact that Jupiter is apporaching its largest size for us. It certainly means that as this Jupiter season moves on I will not hesitate to take the 120mm to where I can see the huge planet, for it will remain frustratingly low in the southern sky.

As for the quality of the eyepieces – well, that’s what impressed me. The fact that I could take the Double Double, set it on the edge of the fov, and have perfect star images as it drifted from edge to edge. That’s what I expect out of my Naglers and that’s what I also get out of the Ethos – at least in these initial tests.

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Having not seen it for 10 days or more – I don’t actually count cloudy days and cloudy nights because they’re too depressing, but boy we have had more than our share for May – so I have not really seen the universe beyond our own neighborhood – the solar system – for a painfully long interval.  This morning I got a slight glimpse of it in the form of Mu Capricornis, I believe, in the same field of view as Jupiter as I put my ultimate grab ‘n go scope to the test and tasted a bit of what I am pretty sure Galileo was doing precisely  400 years ago.

Grab  'n go - 50mm Sparrow Hawk at the ready!

Grab 'n go - 50mm Sparrow Hawk at the ready!

The Clear Sky Clock called for a brief break in the skies during the late morning, but when I got up about 3:30 am it was still overcast as expected. I meditated for half an hour and when I opened my eyes the dawn was already filling the East with light and it looked like the skies might be clear in that direction. I slipped on shoes and a coat and grabbed the ever-ready Sparrow Hawk aka “Little Rascal” and headed out. When I say “ever-ready,” I have taken a cue from my friend Dom who leaves his Sparrow Hawk on a tripod set up and ready to go. Great idea. So mine is now ut of its case and  sits expectantly in the corner of the library on its tripod with laser’finder attached and with the addition of two small pouches, discarded from some  forgotten use long ago. The pouches are attached to the tripod legs with Velcro ties and each holds an eyepiece.  I leave the 20mm Televue Plossl in the scope for wide field views. In one of the attached pouches is an 8mm TMB Planetary yielding 26X and in the other, a 5mm TMB Planetary clone giving 41X.

I haven’t weighed this set-up, but it has to be less than 10 pounds total and is easily carried in one hand through doorways and around bushes. I was soon in my neighbor’s back yard where I can see over the tree line to the southeast where Jupiter was already getting dim. But as Galileo had reported in the “Starry Messenger” in March of 1609, there were indeed four moons  just visible in the increasing light. It took the 8mm to reveal them and with the  5mm I could see the moons, plus one of the equatorial belts, as well as Mu Capricornus a star just slightly brighter than the moons that will figure prominently later this month in the scene as Jupiter makes its first of three rendezvous this year with Neptune.

The rising Sun, still well hdden below the horizon, was drowning out this scene quickly, however, so I switched to the much brighter – and lower – Venus. Though there were high clouds around it – and sometimes over it – it too was just as Galileo had reported, showing a phase going from crescent to “quarter moon.”  Magnificent!  Here the twilight was a help rather than a hindrance. Venus showed best with the 8mm, I thought, but in any event also showed some ghosting – a second image just to its east. This is typical, at least in my experience with this brilliant planet. It’s shinning at about -4.5 right now and I find it very hard to see well in a dark sky. But put some light behind it and it comes into sharp focus. Put more light behind it and the ghosting vanishes, so it got better as twilight brightened the sky.

How brilliant, though, of Galileo to see those four moons doing their dance about Jupiter – and to understand what he saw. And to see lovely Venus, going through these phases and to understand that this, too, was world-shaking news – clear evidence that  the universe did not revolve around the Earth, but as incredible – and uncommonsensical – as it seems, the Earth itself was both rotating on its axis every 24 hours and revolving around the Sun. I wonder if later in that Spring of 1609  he perhaps looked at Venus and Jupiter again, as I did this morning, and said “Yes, yes! I am right!” And, of course, for being right he landed in jail and suffered the ridicule of colleagues. I just recently came acrosss this wonderful quote from philosopher Jean Bodin writing in 1628, 18 years after Galileo had made his key discoveries, reported on them, and others had confirmed them independently.

No one in his senses, or imbued with the slightest knowledge of physics will ever think that the earth, heavy and unwieldy from it sown weight and mass, staggers up and down around its own center and that of the Sun; for at the slightest jar of the earth, we would see cities and fortresses, towns and mountains thrown down.

Understand – I am not making light of Bodin. I am in complete sympathy with his view. It makes excellence common sense. But Galileo was showing us something else. He was showing us the uncommon sense of science. He was revealing that there is much more to this universe then what we see and comprehend from the perspective of our own scale and viewpoint. What an incredible breakthrough. And how much fun it is indeed to grab the Sparrow Hawk, step out into the rain-drenched dawn, listen to the resident cardinal greet the day, and confirm for my own soul and sanity, that Galileo had it right.

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As the Earth turns – it’s not a soap opera, it’s the reality we so easily forget, but it was all happening right before our eyes on Gooseberry Point, Monday. There were enough visual clues present to really sense the motion.

Gooseberry Island, Westport, offering beautiful Sunsets/Moonrise over water.

Gooseberry Island, Westport, offering beautiful Sunsets/Moonrise over water.

I had gone there to catch another look at Venus as she goes through her phasing – sort of a fan dance spread over six weeks – see this post for details – and she didn’t disappoint. While the western horizon was cloudy, Venus was 40-degrees up and visible in broad daylight. I tracked her down with the 12X36 IS Canon binoculars quite quickly, about 20 minutes before sunset. Then, blocking the Sun with my right hand and knowing right where to look, I could easily see her with the naked eye – afterall, at -4.6 Venus is bright, very bright!

I pointed the little 66mm AT refractor at her and dropped in a 20mm Plossl – that gave me about the same power  Galileo was using exactly 400 years ago when he first discovered the phases of Venus. My, what pleasure that must have given him! Of course, my modern refractor is far, far better than his lens which gave sharp images only near its center – and then not too sharp – but at least what I was seeing was in the ball park of what he saw.  You certainly could tell at 20X that Venus was not round, but shaped like something less than the quarter moon – distinctly crescent-like. About five minutes before Sunset Joe Black and his wife joined me. We looked at Venus at 20X, then I switched to the 3.2mm Burgess Planetary eyepiece which gave us  125X on this scope. Real nice! “Looks like a little moon” was the typical reaction. Yep – it sure does, only no markings are visible on that cloud-shrouded globe.  The moon was in the back of my head, though – for I knew it would be rising in about 15 minutes. A young couple, who had been watching the colorful Sunset, soon joined us for a look at Venus and the Moon,  as well as the brighter stars as they started to emerge..

Never wanting to miss the opportunity to compare what we see with the uncommon sense reality of science, I pointed out that the Sun did not set – the ocean came up to swallow it.  It was then that I started to think about what a wonderful illustration of this we had before us and how you could really develop a genuine sense of the Earth’s movement, enhanced by it being the time of full moon and us standing on a penisular – once an island –  that separated the Atlantic Ocean to the west and Buzzard’s Bay to the east.  Venus also provided an illustration of this movement, as the telescope quickly moved so Venus was no longer in view. At 125X anyone glancing in the scope for more than a few seconds could see this motion. Of course we can’t help but think of it as Venus moving, not the telescope, but it is the telescope – and us – turning at roughly 800 miles an hour.

What was really neat, however, was when we started looking for the Moon in the Bay to the east. Right on cue, a little red glob appeared on the clear horizon. In the binoculars it soon looked like a huge, mottled jelly fish – then a somewhat squashed strawberry – Buzzard’s Bay was releasing it and in a couple minutes it popped free, but still seemed to be dripping wet, the edges rough and irregular because of the miles of atmosphere we were looking through – but what a great illustration of the movement of the Earth!

You could stand facing south and see the ecliptic stretching in a great arc from where the Sun had recently set, up through Venus and on over to the East where the moon was rising – and you could put those words – rising and setting – out of your mind,  and feel that the ocean had indeed come up to swallow the Sun and Buzzard’s Bay was, indeed , going down and releasing the Moon!

I need to take advantage of this location on other full moons, for it provides a great example, as well, of the seasonal motions of the Sun and Moon and how the full moon always rises opposite the Sun, but the crescent moon right near it. I love the way the universe keeps giving me fresh looks – especially when I go out thinking I’ll just see something I’ve seen many times before.

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