Saturday, October 29, 2011

Western Conjunction

In the western sky, inferior planets Venus and Mercury are putting on a show the next couple weeks (inferior in the sense they orbit inside the Earth's orbit).  With a clear western horizon, brilliant Venus can be spotted about 10 minutes after sunset.  With the growing darkness, Mercury can be spotted nearby.  They will be very close the next week or so, but by the 14th, Mercury reaches it's greatest elongation from the sun and shortly after dives towards the horizon.  Unfortunately the Autumn ecliptic makes a shallow angle with the horizon and they don't stray far from the horizon or into a dark sky, but Mercury should easily be spotted with binoculars near Venus.  I've been watching it the last few evenings, but I've yet to see it with the unaided eye, though it is easy in binocs.

The picture above was taken this evening as I was headed towards Tucson from an afternoon of work at the Kitt Peak National Observatory.  This picture was taken about 30 minutes after sunset from Ajo Road and Sandario with a 200mm lens.  At the bottom center of the frame are the silhouettes of the telescope domes on the Mountain - the 4-meter on the right to the Solar Telescopes on the left.  If you get a clear sky the next few days, get out and take a look!

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