Moon, Venus, Jupiter Conjunction Dazzles California

Tonight is a very special night. Three celestial bodies clustered together in the sky, signifying a rare conjunction between the Moon, Venus and Jupiter. If you missed it, you’ll have to wait five years until the natural satellite of the Earth and two planets align in a similar pattern again in 2013.

Having been a frustrated astronomer for many years, I decided to get outside to investigate the conjunction over California for myself. Sure enough, from dusk, I could see a bright, thin crescent Moon with two very bright dots to the right and below in the southwest. The same scene has been repeated across many nations, but from my perspective I was able to capture the moment with some basic equipment and a very steady hand (plus some folded business cards)…

If you’ve been listening to my weekly radio show, Astroengine Live, you may have noticed my fascination with practical astronomy (I really need to make that telescope purchase soon). Being an astrophysicist, I’ve always been of the opinion that it’s better to know how a star works than just to see how pretty it is. Obviously I know the importance of astronomy, but I’ve never had the urge to get outside and see the cosmos with my own eyes (apart from the occasional meteor shower).

My previous forays into the amateur astronomy world have resulted in injury, shattered telescope lenses and fuzzy photos of the Moon. In fact, the only successful “astronomy” campaign I ever experienced was back in 2002 on the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard when I let someone else record an all-sky video of the magnificent aurora shimmering overhead during a substorm (I was, naturally, sitting back enjoying a hot cup of Earl Gray while trying to dry off my socks). Natural born astronomer, I’m not!

On that same trip I decided to pop outside for a short observation campaign of my own. Balancing my old Yashica SLR on a glove and a block of ice, setting the timer to capture the bright green auroral display in -20°C (-4°F), resulted in frostbite and a frozen mechanical timer of the camera. My beloved SLR was never the same again (if the 10 second timer is set, it times anything between two seconds and two minutes. Oh dear) and three of my fingertips are still numb.

But tonight, I had the California warmth to prevent frozen fingers and 5 megapixels of digital camera joy to make another attempt at capturing the rare conjunction of the Moon, Venus and Jupiter. Here are the results:

The December 1st conjunction of the Moon, Venus and Jupiter. Imaged from Woodland Hills, CA, using a Canon PowerShot SD450 (ISO 50, 0.8 second exposure). © Ian O'Neill

The December 1st conjunction of the Moon, Venus and Jupiter. Imaged from Woodland Hills, CA, using a Canon PowerShot SD450 (50 ASA, 0.8 second exposure). © Ian O'Neill

As above, labelled. © Ian O'Neill

As above, but zoomed out slightly and with an exposure time of 1 sec (labelled)

Not too shabby even if I do say so myself!

Although the JPEG compression is obvious, the results were pretty good considering I was using nothing more than my little Canon PowerShot SD450 pushed to its highest resolution (plus a top secret business card-folding method to construct a makeshift tripod). On closer inspection of the Moon, some lunar features can be seen with little ridges along the light-dark terminator. These are most likely the mountains and crater sides catching the sunlight.

So, what are we looking at here? First off, let’s get an idea about the distances of the Moon, Venus and Jupiter:

The moon will be only about 251,400 miles (403,900 km) from Earth, while Venus is nearly 371 times farther away, at 93.2 million miles (149.67 million km). Meanwhile, Jupiter is almost 2,150 times farther away than our natural satellite at 540.3 million miles (869.0 million km). — Space.com

The of Earth, Venus and Jupiter (plus the Moon) = conjunction in the night sky

The alignment of Earth, Venus and Jupiter (plus the Moon) = conjunction in the night sky

As you can tell from the above paragraph, the Moon, Venus and Jupiter aren’t actually clustered together, they are simply lining up. From our perspective, we can see the Moon closest, then Venus and then Jupiter, farthest, but they cluster in a tight group with stars in the background when viewed from the Earth.

If you were really lucky, and viewing from Europe, you may have had the opportunity to see the Moon move in front of Venus. This is known as a lunar occultation of Venus. As reported by SpaceWeather.com, “En route to last night’s Great Conjunction, the Moon ran right over Venus. The event, which astronomers call a “lunar occultation,” happened directly over Europe.”

For a run-down of the spectacular view seen all over the world, check out SpaceWeather.com, where a huge collection of international pictures of the last Moon, Venus, Jupiter conjunction until the year 2013. Also, be sure to read some of the interesting facts behind this conjunction over at the Universe Today with Tammy Plotner.

I think I might have caught the astronomy bug after all, and that was just by using a standard digital camera. I can’t wait to get my new telescope…

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40 responses to “Moon, Venus, Jupiter Conjunction Dazzles California

  1. This is nice, man. For all the theoretical physics, astrophysics and cosmology that I know, I’m pretty inept with all but the most basic telescope. I’ve enjoyed your writing and it’s getting progressively more and more enjoyable to read. Keep up the good work!

  2. Thank you Ethan! I know what you mean, I think my problem is that although I consider myself patient, standing out in the back garden, getting cold, looking up for hours on end can be pushing it too far. I love being inside, finding time to read research papers and playing with lines of code. Or simply writing about the guys doing the amazing astronomical research. Having said that, I’m now in California and I should really make full use of cloudless skies and warm nights…

    We’ll see. Astroengine could become my way of documenting my adventures of looking into the night’s sky, doing some real astronomy. We’ll see how that turns out!

    I’ve been on your site quite a lot recently too, loving your articles. I especially liked your Carnival the other week. In fact, your site became the main theme of last week’s episode of Astroengine Live! I’ll be sure to let you know when I post the archived audio :-)

    Hope all is great with you!

    Cheers, Ian

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  4. Hi,

    Just thought I would say first of all that I really like your blog (its gone straight into Reader :P) also I like your web design work. Its all really top notch.

    I was lucky enough to catch this in Scotland. Its a good thing it was a really cold night, because otherwise I don’t think the sky would have been as clear. It was quite amazing to see.

    Was also quite cool I got the chance to use Stellarium :) http://www.stellarium.org/

    Anyway, keep up the good work! Cheers.

  5. Wow, it was a great night! I saw lots of meteors, a thunderstorm in the horizon, and the trio of course!

    I took some photos with a compact Panasonic digital camera (But it’s not a skinny one like yours :X), and I created a set with them on Flickr, You can click my name to see it! You can even see the Jupiter moons in some images! :P

    This is my first “real” sky watching, it was really great!

  6. I saw the conjunction last night. Beautful and mystical. They were way closer and moon was only 15% lit. But it was very romantic. ‘Sigh’

  7. Now I’m really jealous!!! I had a perfect view of this magnificent celestial alignment here in Sun City, AZ last night. I wanted to take a picture with my little Canon Power Shot A560 but my always skeptical husband said it would not turn out. So I didn’t. I’ll have to show him what you did with yours. Now I will have to wait until 2013. Thatks for the great shots! Wish we could have seen the smile face!
    Happy

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  9. Hello World

    I had many encounters with God, some are natural and on three occasions I asked His permission to show Himself to me……..

    I am a devout reborn Christian, I am hooked on the History channel watching EARTH UNDER INVESTIGATION where the UNIVERSE is on display……

    It does not take a Rocket Scientist to know that the power the Universe exherts is beyond our limited thinking……The Universe IS GOD!

    November 31st Sunday evening when I retired to bed after a unusually “sweet” and “undesturbed” week-end…..I just “missed” God……I asked him for yet another encounter to know that He is out there…….

    We all know what happened 1 December 2008! Unprecidented Power, Johannesburg S.A. had a display that was out of here!! The planets were lined up right across each other with the Moon in the centre…………I am still in awe

    What a Mighty Powerful Beautiful God!!

    Love you World

    Rosemarie

  10. hi there,
    when i saw the moon being escorted with two bright stars on both sides, i was like wow! she looks beauitful, is any one really taking note of this love disply by the moon and the two partners in crime? this is my first time in life see such a revolution, it was lovely and i would like to know what it means to the world

    plse answer them!

    cheers

    Hallamo De Pari

  11. hi again,
    it is good to be in the world where machines helps the peopl, you see and the machines stores them for you, thanks for taking the picture of the moon and the two friends, i live in a world where my eyes act as the camera and my brain as the storing device and has no wiring connection for it to print the picture! wow! what i world,

    i am a South Sudanese musician and i hope one day what i see and sing will be store for history, if you want to reach me, here is my mible number
    000294 129206242

    Hallamo De Pari

  12. Hi Ian,
    That was spectacular event!
    Here in India,we witnessed a smile – with venus and jupiter as eyes and moon as mouth!
    and yesterday,the venus had gone down a bit below jupiter and moon is well above them!!

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  15. hello i am thai. my country think it very nice. because we think it “moon smile for us” .and thailand is nice province .i hope u will travel in my country.

  16. Hi! It is true that Venus, Jupiter and the Moon will again form a conjunction in 2013. However, the nearly identical appearance will not happen again until 48 years–that is, in 2056.–JFadul Amateur Astronomer

  17. moon is really amazing their changing shape very attractive like shine shone tone with lone gone very nice shine in the sky than other stars

  18. It was indeed a great and fascinating night. The three celestial bodies that clustered in the sky at the same time will only appear once in every five years. if you missed it once, you have to wait few more years to get a chance to see it.-Contributor: Pregnancy Miracle Thoughts

  19. Thanks for posting this useful information. This is a really good and interesting article for me. Very appreciated blog post…. Hope that I can visit it for the new and interesting article…Keep it up…

  20. Hello World! Hi Ian !…:)

    As we mover closer to the anniversary of what was an amazing experience back in 2008, I cannot wait for yet another “show off” of Venus, Jupiter and the Moon soon. Will it happen the same time I wonder? Which is in the next few weeks already…..wow

    In the meantime, I am proud to be a South African where our country will have the honors to develop the world’s strongest radio telescope, starting in 2016. The SKA (Square Kilometre Array) Radio Telescope will bring us every asnwer we are looking for. I am little nervious as a reborn christian and hope there are no surprises lol?

    God bless you all, until the next time
    Love
    Rosemarie Lodewick, Johannesburg, South Africa

  21. Fascinating stuff!!

    Regarding the Asteroid bagging, I am sure the BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) would have an interest?? In thhe meantime, there is stil so much untapped minerals in Africa!? I guess with this powerful asssociation, they might stick to Planet Earth for now? Safer…..lol

    Keep up the good work Ian!

    Rosemarie, Johannesburg, South Africa

  22. @Ian O’Neill,

    Do you believe that God is the universe? I am just hooked on the Universe and it’s power, thanks to the HISTORY CHANNEL educating us!

    I love “Venus”, “BLUE VENUS”; friends of mine had a 5 star Night Club callded BV many years ago;

    Anyway, if I must have a second chance I would not be a Property Developer but Astromonist? I guess I “create” as well, buildings of course………..it is about CREATION…….

    What is you DEEP feeling and thinking around the Universe Ian, if you mind me asking?

    God bless

    Rosemarie

  23. Just Rosemarie again…….the response was written in a state of AWE…..lol……would like to describe it once more:As a christian (reborn) christian I take time out to focus on God……it is one thing to “know” God and another to “focus” on Him? Once you get accustomed to the idea of being “one” with him, you seem to have a two way conversation that is Powerful……so, on November 31st 2008 I had one of those “intimate” conversations with God……..and had such a desire to “see” him…….I asked him for a sign……..and wala, the following evening, 1 December 2008, a beautiful scene lit up the skies……what a spectacular? Thank you GOD, I “believe” you are out there…..and “in me”….:-)

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