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Spectacular Triple Conjunction December 1st 2008 - Page 2

It would only be a matter of min's until Venus appeared in the sky again. I used the time wisely by getting the camera leveled and getting as close in as I could. The maximum was 300mm of optical zoom. I had the digital zoom function deactivated. I hate digital zoom and would never use it.

17.07 UT. So here's the waxing crescent Moon with earthshine and Jupiter above as close as I could get them. A selection of dark Maria (lunar seas) can be seen on the dark side. It was extremely exciting at this point waiting for egress. I had no perception of time, I didn't look at the clock, it was just me and the sky. I was so focused on what was happening that I seen and heard absolutely nothing around me. Everything else ceased to exist.

17.14 UT. I glanced across to the W to make sure there was no cloud moving in, when I looked back at the Moon it looked completely different!. With the naked eye I could clearly see a well defined bump or imperfection on the limb of the crescent!. Wow! (I actually said a number other words to that effect which I will not repeat here) Venus was reappearing from behind the Moon, but a portion of the planet's disk was still behind the Moon. This was not a subtle sight either, I could see the intense white crescent with an equally intense white Venus with extreme ease. It seemed to be jumping out from the sky. Any of the drivers along the roads looking up would have noticed that there was something 'wrong' with the Moon. I had to use a faster shutter speed because the pair where so close that they easily blended together. On this image you can see part of Venus and its associated star-burst spikes. I have images taken earlier than this one, but here it's easier to see. Images do not do justice to this. I was completely blown away by the view. It looked like a star 'stuck' on the Moon itself!.

17.17 UT. Venus is almost separated from the limb. I was expecting this to look good but I had severely underestimated the impact it would have. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. I felt like pinching myself, was this really happening?. Thank goodness I was blessed with such a clear sky to witness this remarkable event. It hit me just how rare this was. I had read somewhere in the days before the event that a conjunction like this would not happen again until 2095. Don't quote me on that date though. One thing was for certain, I won't be around to see it. I had seen many Moon/planet/bright star conjunctions and occultations over the years but I knew in an instant this was the best I had ever seen. I wasn't even using any optical aid either. The naked eye was all that was needed.

17.18 UT. Faster shutter to darken the background. Venus has now detached from the limb. Note the orange corona formed by moonlight refracting through water droplets in the atmosphere. Venus is embedded within. Note the dark 'cut' on the southern horn of the Moon. A larger crater or mountain range is casting a shadow. Can you imagine how tall it must be to do that. Jupiter has faded slightly due to a passing cloud.

17.21 UT. Slightly longer shutter to pick up that nice corona. Part of the corona is over the earthshine which looked nice.

17.27 UT. Now the triple conjunction was at its most stunning. This was absolutely incredible!!!, it felt so surreal standing here watching this. It looked so festive, nature had produced the ultimate Christmas card scene. The only thing missing is the snow, although we are expecting some of that in a few days time. I can't find words to describe this event. A poet would be needed to do that. This wasn't an observation, this was an experience. It had to be seen to be believed. I have only felt this magic feeling on a selection of occasions since I began in Astronomy. Usually it would be something amazing like a great comet, a geomagnetic storm, fireball, or brilliant Noctilucent cloud display which would trigger that special feeling. It's at moments like this that you come face to face with the sublime beauty of the heavens. It's much more than that though with this event and example phenomena I mentioned. I can sense a deep connection with ancient times. This was back in a time when people would witness events like this with no understanding of what's happening. When this happens they see the apparition as a sign or portent of good or evil things to come. A signal of danger, or celestial sign from God. The layperson, astronomer, and astrologer looked for all kind of meaning in rare events like this. However I'm really thinking it goes back further than this.

I don't think it would be any stretch of the imagination to assume that the early humans on this planet not only observed these signs in the sky, but had a more dramatic impact from them. I sense that this primeval instinct/reaction to something new in the sky connects us with our ancestors. The emotions of amazement, mystery, and even fear of the unknown is pumping through the blood of everyone. When we see an archetype sign, whether it be from a cave drawing or book, this ancient feeling hits us like a fist. On rare occasions like now, we get to see the sign with our own eyes, and despite the fact that it was predicted and know the celestial mechanics behind it, we still ask ourselves ''what is happening?''. Moments like these don't happen very often, but when they do we never forget them. Future astronomers are born from sights like this. It's events like this that keep me hooked on astronomy. I wonder when I will feel like this again.

17.28 UT. The Moon and Venus where still very close but enough of a gap had opened to try some wider shots. The last of the twilight glow is just about to fade. Now I was having a good time experimenting with the shutter and catching car trails under the triple conjunction.

17.31 UT. Going vertical with a bit more zoom. This was just so beautiful to look at it. The Coleraine Road was still busy with non stop traffic providing me with plenty of trails. The two purple glows from the house to the lower L are outdoor Christmas trees.

17.32 UT. I only included this one because of the 50/50 red and white trails and the striking diffraction spikes on the Moon and Venus.

17.32 UT. Up to this point in time I was concentrating so much on the imaging that I hadn't noticed how cold it had got. When I took a break to take in the scene it suddenly hit me how cold I was. My tripod doesn't extend very high so I was in a crouched position to see through the viewfinder for the entire time. My right foot felt as if it was locked to the ground. The frost was heavy on the grass and my hands had passed the pain barrier. My fingers were stiff and frozen. I literally could feel nothing with them at all. I had serious trouble trying to focus the camera. I only knew I had touched the focus ring when I felt resistance against my fingers. I had to make rapid horizontal motions against the ring and hope for the best. I didn't know how much longer I could take images like this.

17.34 UT. Then the batteries went dead again and I had to change over to a new set in the dark with no feeling in my hands. That was a nightmare. To add insult to injury I seen some cloud moving in so I was rushing even more to get some final shots. Above is a good example of the old Moon in the new Moon's arms.

17.36 UT. Back to some wide shots. My fingers can't take to focusing the zoomed ones anymore.

17.36 UT. Wider still. With the exception of the noise of distant traffic it was very quiet around me. I seen the International Space Station (ISS) pass over high above the conjunction.

17.37 UT.

17.39 UT. I really liked this image even though it's a tiny bit out of focus. Venus, Jupiter and the Moon were all a dazzling white colour. They looked so bright and pure as they hung with pride over the world.

17.42 UT. A lot of moist air began to arrive from the W reducing the transparency a great deal. A nice colourless corona formed around the Moon which looked great with Venus embedded within. The trio were obscured by cloud after this so I began to head home.

18.23 UT. I was located on low ground on the W side of the Coleraine Road when it cleared again. I was amazed to see all three very low and close to setting in the SW against a very dark sky. This time they looked all the more incredible because the Moon, Venus and Jupiter were a spell bounding gold colour because of atmospheric extinction. I couldn't resist taking an image from the road side as the cars rushed past in proximity to me. Look how far away Venus is from the Moon now compared with the earlier images!. It's a pity the camera couldn't pick up that gold colour. I didn't see that cable at the time cutting straight through Venus. That's a Horse box below the tree branches.

Here's a long video clip showing Venus emerging from behind the Moon. It came out extremely well despite the compression. This was taken using the movie mode on my digital camera. The video is edited to show the scene at various intervals. For anyone who is interested, I'm using a Fujifilm S6500fd 6.3MP bridge camera with a 28-300mm zoom lens. Before I arrived home I watched the golden trio wink on and off as they set behind trees and vanished into the dark hills just as the last hint of twilight faded from the sky. A sky rich with stars and a bright Milky Way now took over the scene. I welcomed a warm home and hot food after being out in so much cold.

So what was my overall impression of this conjunction/occultation?. Without any doubt in my mind it was the best and most beautiful example of the phenomena I have ever seen to date. I give it 10/10 and fully deserving the 'wow factor'. Not only was the event wonderful itself but I also had such a great time watching it from my high vantage point. The 'night sky event of the year' certainly earned its title, not only living up to predictions but exceeding them. It was much more spectacular than I had imagined. It provided a Ying and Yang experience for me. In one hand it was an exciting ego satisfying visual and photographic session, but in the other it touched on something special. It gave me a brief reminder about the bigger picture and our place in the Universe. It also confirmed what I have always believed - that the sky is an incredible place. If you have been considering getting into astronomy and have never got around to doing anything about it then now is the time to start. I promise you will never look back!. Thanks for reading, and thanks also to Venus, Jupiter and the Moon for such a great show.


Martin McKenna

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