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May-June Conjunction Challenge

nrothschild

US
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nrothschild Neil is an expert in several areas, including camera support Registered since 25th Jul 2004
Mon 20-May-13 03:57 AM | edited Mon 20-May-13 06:31 PM by nrothschild

I have a new challenge centered on an astronomical event playing out over the next few weeks. Mercury, Venus and Jupiter are moving toward a very tight alignment visible after sunset in the mid dusk sky. That conjunction will be at optimum on the evening of May 26, and that date should be good world-wide.

As this is posted, Jupiter is currently about 13° above the horizon when I would expect it to be first seen. Each following day, Venus and Mercury will climb higher, together, until their May 26th meeting. You can start shooting Jupiter now, as time permits, and a little practice before the major dates never hurts.

Plus, it is interesting to watch this unfold, day after day. What is the first day you can see (and image!) Venus, and then finally, Mercury?

On the evening of May 26, those 3 planets will form a tight triangle, with the stars separated by less than 3°. When the sun is 3° below the horizon, about 15-20 minutes after sunset, these planets will be at an altitude of about 10°. This makes for a nice landscape view with a 50mm lens on FX or a 35mm lens on DX.

It is my experience that when the sun is very roughly 3° below the horizon it is first possible to see very new moons and planets.

The map on May 26, for the East Coast USA, about 15 minutes after sundown with the sun about 3° below the horizon. It will be very similar in most or all areas of the world.

Click on image to view larger version


The new moon will occur on June 8.

On the evening of June 09, the first day moon will be below Venus and Mercury. However, when the sun is 3° below the horizon Jupiter will be setting or within 1°. If I have access to an ocean horizon that day I'll try to see Jupiter but a mere sighting, in binoculars would be exceptional and more likely may be impossible. Venus and Mercury will still be well above the horizon, again at about 10°.

This newest moon on June 9 will be quite challenging. When the sun sinks about 3° below the horizon the moon will only be about 3-5° above the horizon, depending on your location.

The map on June 9, for the East Coast USA, again with the sun 3° below the horizon:

Click on image to view larger version


The evening of June 10 will see the moon now about 10-12° above the horizon, and just beside Venus and Mercury. This will be much easier than the prior evening and a better image because the moon will be closer to the planets.

The map on June 10, for the East Coast USA, again with the sun 3° below the horizon:

Click on image to view larger version


Feel free to shoot this conjunction any time between now and June 19, or even thereafter. Between May 26 and the June 10-11 new moon, Mercury will pull ahead of Venus, and then they will start to close again. On June 18-19, Venus will pass by Mercury as it climbs higher in the sky and Mercury starts to move back toward the sun.

This is a nice challenge and event because we have 2 or 3 optimum days for somewhat different images, but we have a couple of planets relatively close for a month or so. Hopefully everyone will get some clear skies within that month to shoot these planets.

Venus should be, as always, very bright and easy to find relatively quickly after sunset. Jupiter, while it is visible, will also be quite bright. Mercury will be mag 0.4, and will not be as bright as it can be. I have shot it when it was at least as bright as mag -1.9. I would think it will be fairly challenging, and it will be a race against time as the sky darkens, making it easier to see, as it sinks to the horizon. On May 26, I would expect Mercury to first appear well after the other two planets.

Edit: On May 26 Mercury will be mag -0.7. On June 11, Mercury will be magnitude 0.5, a drop of 1.2 magnitudes or about 1.8 stops. It reached maximum brightness on May 12. The physics of the changing brightness is such that when it is brightest it is very close to the sun, so not helpful.

The short story: allowing for brightness and altitude (angular distance from sun) May 26 is a very good time to photograph Mercury.

However, despite being twice as dim on June 11, it will be 8° further from the sun, mitigating some, or perhaps much of that brightness drop. May even be better. The contrast against the dusk sky is just as important as the apparent brightness. That 8° buys you over a half hour of increasing darkness at any given altitude, as well as moving it 8° further from the dusk sunset sky glow.

A complex subject indeed . If you can shoot it both days you will learn something important about shooting it .

For all maps, a 50mm FX frame (~35mm DX) is included for context. But you can shoot this any way you want.

On May 19, when they are closest together, it is even possible to image Jupiter, its moons, and the two other planets in a very long focal length image. I think it might be squeezed into 500mm FX but 400mm will be much easier. On DX, 300mm will be tight too, but should be doable. Around 200mm will be easier and likely better composed.

On other days, less focal length will be required in order to image all 3 in the same frame.

A final tip: I suspect Mercury may not image well. For example, in the 50mm frame I suggested, it may not appear in an un-cropped web sized image. It may be necessary to shoot portrait orientation at a longer focal length in order to well image it. Given the tightness to the sun and associated dusk glow it is difficult to predict in advance.
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_________________________________
Neil


my Nikonians gallery.

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