Wednesday, January 8, 2014

More Venus!

Since last spotting Venus 2 nights ago, I figured I was done with the evening apparition, as it is rapidly heading towards inferior conjunction on Saturday (11 January). Last night (Tuesday) I got home late, but it was cloudy anyway. Tonight I got home moments before sunset, about 1730, and immediately grabbed the binoculars and went where I had spotted it Monday - our cul-de-sac's mailbox. Even though the sun had just dropped below the Tucson Mountains, and a band of clouds lined the western sky, Venus was easily picked up in virtually the same position as Monday, though about 15 minutes earlier. I had time to fetch Melinda and she saw the huge near-ghostly crescent in the strong twilight-lit sky. I didn't run for the camera as it looked virtually identical to the earlier shot. While Melinda observed with the binoculars, I convinced myself I could see it visually - telling her where it appeared, with her confirming. Moments later the layer of clouds swallowed it up, but it was so cool to see it so close to inferior conjunction - only 3 days away! I may even try again tomorrow, and for that matter, since Venus is pretty far north of the sun this conjunction (don't forget it was 5 June, 2012 when it transited the sun - the last inferior conjunction!) I might find a safe spot to try to observe it on conjunction day where the sun will be blocked... The key to finding it in strong twilight like tonight is having a reference point and knowing where to look - thank goodness I spotted it while getting the mail Monday night!

And for the first time ever, I've observed something that was simultaneously in the SOHO LASCO C3 coronographic imager! I've looked in the past without luck, but Venus entered the field of view the last day or so, shown here at left.  For those of you who have never seen these images before, the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) has been keeping an eye on the sun since 1996!  The C3 image shown here has a 15 degree field of view with north up.  The dark disk blocks the bright sun, the little white circle marks the position of the sun.  The bright object upper left is Venus, which is moving towards the west (right) past the sun.  The fainter one at lower left is Mercury, which is moving away from the sun and will be visible in a week or so in our evening sky.  The radial streaky bits are some of the outer reaches of the Sun's atmosphere, the "snow" is the detector reacting to charged particles ejected from an ejection from the sun a day or two ago. 

Normally there are stars and constellations visible, but they are a little overwhelmed by the particles in the above image...  Here is an image taken a couple weeks ago from 26 December - just about the time we got back to Tucson from our recent Mexico trip.  With less solar activity you can now see what I meant about seeing stars.  This time of year the Sun was transiting Sagittarius, most commonly recognized by the Teapot asterism at the bottom of the frame (only top part visible).  Even though the camera is pointed towards the sun, you can see the bright parts of the Milky Way, as well as some of the brighter Messier deep-sky objects like the Lagoon and Omega Nebulae, as well as star cluster M22.  Mercury was beyond the sun, still chugging eastward below the sun.  It really seems strange to be deep-sky observing from this remote platform with the Sun in the field of view!  It has served as an invaluable observing aid for watching planets nearing the sun, and more recently, of Comet ISON disintegrating as it rounded the sun on Thanksgiving...

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