Superb Jupiter-Mars Conjunction At Dawn

Venus gleams atop Jupiter and Mars, which were in close conjunction this morning October 17, 2015. Credit: Bob King
Venus gleams atop Jupiter and Mars, which were in close conjunction this morning October 17, 2015. Tomorrow morning, the two will be in slightly different positions but almost exactly as close. Details: 24mm lens, f/2.8, 15 seconds, ISO 1600. Photo taken 5:30 a.m. CDT. Credit: Bob King

We’ve been talking here about the planets arranging and rearranging themselves in the morning sky the past couple weeks. Guess what shook out of all their orbital meanderings? A fabulous conjunction of Mars and Jupiter!

You can just see three of Jupiter's moons in a straight row sticking out of the planet in this photo taken with a 200mm telephoto lens this morning. Mars is just to its upper left
Three of Jupiter’s moons poke out in a row from the planet in this photo taken with a 200mm telephoto lens this morning. Mars lies above and left of Jupiter. The three (Europa, Ganymede, Callisto in order from close to far) were easily seen in 8×40 binoculars. Io is lost in the planet’s glare in this view. Details: f/2.8, ISO 1600, 1.3 second exposure. Credit: Bob King

I walked out this morning to the sight. Venus grabbed my attention immediately because of its overwhelming brilliance, but Mars and Jupiter were even more amazing. They were so tight they almost seemed to touch. Only 0.2° or two-thirds of a full moon separated them. I couldn’t stop staring, so I put my dumbfoundedness to use by taking a few photos.

The view through the telescope proved equally fine. All four of Jupiter’s brightest moons — Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto — were on full display, flung out on either side of the fat, banded globe. I even got a wink from the Great Red Spot, which happened to be squarely in view.

Mars glared a ruddy orange in the same field of view. I cranked up the magnification to 124x and then 242x and waited for the air to settle down. In steady moments, the planet’s “gibbous moon” shape was obvious, and I even caught a few glimpses of the frosty north polar cap.

The view tomorrow morning, October 18, facing east. Leo's the current playground of the planets. Source: Stellarium
The view tomorrow morning, October 18, facing east. Leo’s the current playground of the planets. Source: Stellarium

Brrrr! Chilly on Mars and brisk back here on Earth, too with just 24° staring back from the thermometer. Beautiful astronomical sights have a way of keeping you warm inside no matter the temperature. Tomorrow morning, Jupiter and Mars will still be very close (0.2°). The gap widens on Monday morning (the19th) to 0.7°, still a tight sight. Set the alarm and go for it. You’ll see them best from about two hours to 75 minutes before sunrise in the east.

3 Responses

  1. Giorgio Rizzarelli

    Nice shots, thanx x sharing. Overcast here at least now (9PM now here). Tomorrow morning we’ll have them at 23′ separation. Nice that these Mar and Jup are compatible in terms of camera exposition to catch them both properly in a single shot – unlike the close Ven-Jup months ago. Clear skies!

    1. astrobob

      Hi Giorgio,
      Thank you! I hope you’ll be able to see and photograph them, too. This group is very nice in the camera even with a basic 35mm lens.

  2. Troy

    I’m embarrassed to say I looked at the pairing through the window and went back to sleep. I’ll try again tomorrow.

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