Saturday, March 21, 2015

Look to the West!

The multi-planet alignments in the western sky at sunset are slowly coming to an end. Mars and Venus, so close a month ago, are now widely separated, and Uranus, visible next to Mars just 10 days ago, is nowhere to be seen as it appears to move too close to the sun from our perspective. Tonight, however, the moon, fresh from its solar eclipse Friday morning in far northwestern Europe, appeared tonight (Saturday) adjacent to Mars. I drove up to "Bad Dog" overlook on the Mount Lemmon Highway to improve my western horizon. I arrived minutes before sunset, and was able to barely capture the moment of sunset behind the Tucson Mountains about 24 miles away, and the saguaro cacti on the slopes of the Catalinas considerably closer. I enjoyed the view of city lights coming up as the Moon/Mars conjunction became visible.

I wasn't sure how close Mars and the Moon would appear - I was hoping to use the William Optics 11cm, F/7 refractor used for the sunset above, but once Mars popped out, it wouldn't quite fit with the 770mm focal length. Fortunately, I was prepared and brought my smaller Meade 80mm F/6 for 480mm of focal length for the view shown at left. Mars is in the lower left, and if you click the image to load the full-size view, you can also spot a couple of 6th magnitude stars in Pisces. Of course, the "dark side" of the Moon is visible because with the skinny crescent phase, from the Moon's surface, there is a nearly full Earth illuminating it. Called "Earthshine", it is easily seen during the crescent moon phase.

A little later as it got darker, I finally broke out the kit lens for the Canon XSi to take a wide-angle shot. Visible at left is the Moon/Mars pair, and also brilliant Venus above it. I went looking for the much dimmer planet Uranus, visible near these planets the last few weeks, but it has appeared to have dropped too close to the sun to spot.

There is still good reason to watch the west, though... Tomorrow (Sunday), the moon continues its path away from the sun and is adjacent to the brighter planet Venus - be on the lookout if your skies are agreeable!

No comments: