Jupiter and Saturn Come Together

Have you been watching Jupiter and Saturn in the southwest evening skies soon after sunset? They are getting closer together. By late December they will be nearly in the same position in the sky. This composite image used 4 images I superimposed in the recent two weeks. The thin line shows how close their encounter will be. Keep watching the show.

Moon Occults β Scorpii | 21 Sep 2020

Beta Scorpii (β Scorpii, Beta Sco, β Sco) is in the southern zodiac constellation of Scorpius. It is also labeled as Graffias in this star chart. The Moon passed in front of the star and hid it from view for about an hour. During the hour before occultation, I photographed the Moon and Beta Scorpii at 10 minute intervals using the same zoom and exposure settings. Photoshop Elements was used to merge the series of images showing the progress of the Moon as it neared the star. Disappearance was at about 8:42 pm. Reappearance was 9:40.

Our skies in Iowa have been filtered with smoke and haze from fires in the western states. The Moon and Beta Scorpii were already low in the southwest during the hour before occultation. The Moon was tinted orange. I hoped to also photograph the emergence of Beta Scorpii on the right side of the Moon after occultation. But, the pair was only 5˚ above the horizon. They had disappeared in the hazy atmosphere. During several recent sunsets, the Sun has turned very red-orange and faded from sight before it actually reached the horizon.

Very Old Waning Crescent Moon

It was just after 6 am on 16 September. The Sun barely brightened the sky in the east. A thin haze was in the air from forest fires to the west. I live in Iowa. We have had several days of filtered light through the smoke and haze. The Sun rises and sets very orange. On this morning I hoped to photograph the thinnest crescent moon I had ever seen. It was only 24 hours before the next new moon.

I had been up since 5:30 with binoculars scanning the sky close to the horizon. At 6:07 am I spotted the thin crescent through the haze only 5˚ above the horizon. I grabbed several shots then watched as it rose and the sky brightened. Soon the Moon disappeared in the bright sky.

Waning Moon | 28.4 days | 1.44% Illuminated | ISO 1600 | 1 sec

Mars Moon Conjunction | 5 Sep 2020

Mars and the Moon rose in the east just before 10 pm. A few small clouds cleared revealing the pair. This at 9:59 pm.

Canon PowerShot SX60 HS | 9:59pm

I shot 3 more images at 10, 10:23, and 10:32, then aligned them with Photoshop Elements.

Canon PowerShot SX60 HS | Photoshop Elements composite

Also in view but to the south were Jupiter and Saturn. Keep watching J&S until late December. They will be in very close conjunction with each other at that time. It will be a beautiful and rare sight.

Apparent Planetary Magnitudes

Amateur and professional astronomers know that the apparent brightness, or magnitude (V), varies greatly from planet to planet. For example, Venus is high in the morning sky at twilight at this time in its orbit. It is very bright. It has a large apparent magnitude. Neptune has a very low apparent magnitude due to its distance from the Sun. Most people have no idea where to look for it and have never seen it.

This chart is in Computing Apparent Planetary magnitudes for The Astronomical Almanac authored by Anthony Mallama and James L. Hilton of the US Naval Observatory in June 2018. It is an attractive display of the apparent magnitudes of the planets as seen from Earth. Not only is it artistic, there is a lot of science to see if we examine the details contributed by each planet.

A. Mallama,  J. Hilton | USNO

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