Rocky moon meets the ringed planet tonight

Look to the waxing gibbous moon tonight July 7 and you’ll see the planet Saturn about 1 degree above it. This map shows the sky around 10 o’clock local time. Stellarium

Forgive this ultra-brief appearance, but I’ve been exploring a virtually unknown astronomical paradise the past few days – Las Vegas! Although it seems incongruous, given Vegas’ image, the Las Vegas Astronomical Society has a very active presence here.

A recent photo posted by the Cassini spacecraft photo group shows Saturn’s magnificent rings, polar vortex and the jet stream-created polar hexagon. The hexagon, which is wider than 2 Earths, forms a six-lobed, stationary wave that wraps around the north polar regions at a latitude of roughly 77 degrees North. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The group planned a public outing for the Mars-moon conjunction on July 5 but were clouded out. Maybe tonight their members will get a clear sky for the Saturn-moon conjunction. I’ll be in a plane at 35,000 feet for the event crossing my fingers I get a window seat on the ‘right’ side.

Serious about Ceres? Vested in Vesta? A last-minute conjunction guide

Last night July 2, 2014 Ceres and Vesta were about a quarter degree apart in Virgo above Mars and Spica in the southwestern sky around 11 p.m. You can clearly see that Vesta is the brighter asteroid. 70mm lens at f/2.8, ISO 2500, 15-second exposure. Credit: Bob King

And yes the twain shall meet! Tonight I have a couple new photos to share with you showing the asteroids Ceres and Vesta just before their face-to-face meeting on July 5. That night they’ll be 10 arc minutes or just a third of a full moon diameter apart. Don’t fret if the weather’s supposed to be cloudy then – they’ll be nearly close tonight through the 6th.

Ceres and Vesta on the move! Pictures taken last night July 2, 2014 and tonight July 3 around 11 p.m. CDT show both asteroids zipping along near Zeta Virginis. The small triangle of stars serves as a reference to help you judge their movement. Photos taken with a 70mm lens, enlarged and cropped. Credit: Bob King

Besides, tonight the moon’s still a crescent and neither as bright nor as close to our asteroidal celebrities as it will be on the 5th. Glare that night will make seeing fainter Ceres difficult. If you have a telescope, both can be viewed right on through the full moon.

Map showing the motion of Ceres and Vesta at 1-day intervals near Zeta Virginis, a 3rd magnitude star located above the bright pair of Mars and Spica in the southwestern sky at nightfall. They’ll be closest on July 5. Stars plotted to magnitude 8.5. I also drew in the same triangle as in the photos. Source: Chris Marriott’s SkyMap

Vesta shines at magnitude 7, one magnitude fainter than the naked eye limit. I had no problem seeing either asteroid in 8×40 binoculars last night (July 2). They also showed up in my camera with a 15-second exposure at ISO 2500 with the lens wide open at f/2.8. The next few nights present a great opportunity for anyone with a medium to higher end digital camera and tripod to create a series of photos showing their convergence and divergence over time. A animated gif of the motion would be sweet!

Ceres and Vesta through a 14-inch telescope on July 3, 2014 when they were 13 arc minutes (a bit less than a 1/4 of a full moon diameter) apart. Both asteroids are too small and far away to appear as real disks in most telescopes. Credit: Gianluca Masi

Italian astronomer Gianluca Masi plans to feature live telescope images of Ceres and Vesta at closest approach on his Virtual Telescope site beginning at 3 p.m. CDT (4 p.m. EDT, 2 p.m. MDT and 1 p.m. PDT) Saturday July 5.

Hope you get to see the pair. Their last conjunction was in 1996 when they were much farther apart (2 degrees). And don’t forget the nearby conjunction of the moon and Mars with Spica nearby the same night.

Celestial fireworks light up the sky on the Fifth of July

The crescent moon shines in the southwestern sky tonight July 2 not far from Leo’s brightest star Regulus. It’s headed for two fine conjunctions later this week. Stellarium

We celebrate Independence Day this Friday the 4th with parades and good food topped off with colorful fireworks. Consider that the opening act. Festivities continue into the weekend with two spectacular conjunctions of the moon and planets.

Saturday evening July 5 allow your gaze to wander up to the first quarter moon. Levitating above it will be a bright red light – the planet Mars! They’ll be close. From most of the central and eastern U.S. and Canada the two are separated by just a half degree or one moon diameter. Look a short distance to the left of moon and you’ll also spot Virgo’s brightest star Spica.

The first quarter moon pays a close visit to Mars on Saturday July 5 and then passes Saturn two nights later. The views show the scene from the central U.S. around the start of nightfall. Stellarium

If you live farther south, the moon will inch closer to Mars. From sizzling Miami, the duo’s only a 1/3 of a moon apart, while the moon will completely cover or occult Mars for up to an hour across a wide swath of South America. Click HERE for a map and times showing where and when the occultation will occur.

Though Mars isn’t quite as bright as it was at opposition in April, it’s still brighter than its color rival Betelgeuse in Orion. With haze-free skies and a pair of binoculars you might be able to see it atop the moon a short time before sunset. Certainly worth a try.

Everybody loves an encore after a great performance, and the moon’s happy to oblige. Two nights later on July 7 it glides about a degree (two diameters) directly below Saturn. Once again, the moon will occult the planet as seen from the southern half of South America. While these sky events aren’t exactly stars exploding before our very eyes, their quiet beauty is worth our admiration.

Farewell Jupiter, hello moon!

The 2-day-old lunar crescent will shine low in the west-northwest tonight June 29, 2014. This view shows the moon about 30 minutes after sunset. Not far away – hidden by the tree – Jupiter makes its last stand. See below. Source: Stellarium

Tonight’s returning crescent moon will help us bid adieu to a planet that brought us through winter and spring to the doorstep of summer.

Jupiter’s put on a great show in Gemini this year. We’ve watched the nightly ballet of its four bright moons, pondered the shrinking of the Great Red Spot (how small it will get nobody knows) and witnessed the planet in many fine conjunctions with the crescent, quarter, gibbous and full moons.

That’s a lot of visual delight, but being one of the brightest planets, Jupiter rarely fails to please. Tonight you might see it for the last time this season using the moon as your guide. Face west-northwest about a half-hour after sunset. With binoculars, sweep the sky about 12 degrees to the right and below the crescent moon. Can you see it with your naked eye?

With a clear view to the west-northwest tonight, the moon will help you find Jupiter one last time. The map shows the sky 30 minutes after sunset from the central U.S. Jupiter lies about 12 degrees – a little more than a horizontally-held fist at arm’s length – to the right and below the moon. Use binoculars first and then see if you can spot it without optical aid. Source: Stellarium

No planet escapes the glare of the sun. The apparent movement of the sun across the sky caused by Earth’s revolution around it means that sooner or later our driven star catches up with the slower-orbiting planets that lie beyond the Earth. Indeed, the sun’s been gaining ground on Jupiter ever since January 5. On that date, the planet was at opposition, rising at sunset and remaining visible until the next morning’s sunrise. The very next day the sun gained 4 minutes on it and hasn’t stopped since.

Jupiter’s now (almost) hopelessly lost in bright evening twilight. It will still roast in the BBQ glow of the sunset until July 24 when it passes just a fraction of a degree north of the sun in conjunction. For several days before and after that date we’ll get to see it in SOHO’s coronagraph, an instrument that blocks out the sun to reveal the solar corona, background stars and occasional comet and planet crossings.

Wow! On Aug. 18, days after Jupiter returns to view in the morning sky, it will pass only 0.2 degrees (1/3 the diameter of the full moon) from Venus in the constellation Cancer. Source: Stellarium

As the sun passes and leaves Jupiter behind, the planet re-emerges in the east in morning twilight in early August. And what a grand entry it will be! On August 18 Jupiter passes just 0.2 degrees from Venus in one of the year’s most spectacular conjunctions.

If you recall, Jupiter spent most of this year in the constellation Gemini beneath the bright ‘twin stars’ Castor and Pollux. On its return in August you’ll be struck by how far the planet has moved east along the zodiac. Ceaselessly orbiting the sun, Jupiter will have abandoned Gemini for the faint constellation Cancer the Crab. And so it goes, round and round and round.

Two asteroids approach in the night / See Saturn’s elusive moon Iapetus

Map showing Ceres and Vesta as they approach each other closely this coming week. Both asteroids are near the easy-to-find star Zeta in Virgo not far from bright Mars (see map below). Although the asteroids appear very close together in the sky, they’re really about 51 million miles apart with Vesta in the foreground. Click to enlarge. Source: Chris Marriott’s SkyMap

This coming week there will be something for everyone in the night sky whatever instrument you choose: telescope, binoculars or naked eyeballs.

The biggest asteroid, Ceres, and brightest, Vesta, have been on converging paths since early spring. Right now they’re about a moon diameter (1/2 degree) apart and closing with each passing night. Saturday night July 5 – one week from today –  they’ll be three times closer yet, separated by just 10 arc minutes. To see this double asteroid treat a pair of 35 or 50mm binoculars should do the trick.

Use this wider view to help get oriented. Our two featured asteroids are near the 3rd magnitude star Zeta Virginis just above the bright pair of Mars and Spica. The map shows the sky around 10 p.m. local time tonight June 28, 2014 for the central U.S. Stellarium

Just as moon routinely has conjunctions with bright planets and stars during its monthly round through the zodiac, Vesta and Ceres will be in conjunction one directly atop the other on July 5. Vesta will shine at 7th magnitude and be easy to spot in binoculars; fainter Ceres at magnitude 8.3 will take a little more effort. Since asteroids are too small and far away to show as disks in most telescopes, the pair will look like a temporary ‘double star’ in all instruments.

Double your conjunction fun on Saturday night July 5. The same night Ceres and Vesta are closest, the moon and Mars form a tight duo nearby. From parts of South America, the moon will cover or occult the Red Planet. Stellarium

Another celestial duo debuts on the very same night the asteroids are closest. For observers in the U.S. and Canada, the moon, some 7 degrees south of Vesta-Ceres, passes only a half degree from Mars. Two conjunctions in the same small pocket of sky on the same night!

For U.S. observers, this all happens the night after the July 4 Independence Day fireworks. Could July start with more of a bang?

Another telescopic delight is happening a stone’s throw from Mars around the planet Saturn. Of the 62 known moons of the ringed planet, one of the most peculiar is 907-mile-wide Iapetus, which orbits well beyond the more familiar telescopic moons Titan, Rhea, Tethys and Dione.

Ever seen Saturn’s peculiar moon Iapetus? Right now it’s west of the planet and bright — second only to the moon Titan. Click to enlarge. Source: Starry Night

Iapetus has two faces really. One is shiny white and bright as snow, the other dark as the sky above Gotham City. The moon takes 79 days to complete one orbit around Saturn and like our own moon, keeps one face locked toward the planet. When it orbits east of Saturn, Iapetus shines dimly at magnitude +12 because its dark side faces us. But when it’s off to the west of the planet, the brilliant side turns our way and we see it shine two magnitudes brighter.

Saturn’s moon Iapetus, 907 miles (1,460 km) in diameter, has a dual personality. One hemisphere is covered with bright ice, the other with darker material possibly ejected by impacts on the more distant moon Phoebe. Credit: NASA / JPL / Space Science Institute

Greatest brightness occurs at the time of greatest distance west of the planet which happens on July 3. You can use the map above to help you follow the moon through its cycle of bright to dim. For more information, please see this recent article in Sky and Telescope.

Crescent moon visits a ‘wintering’ Venus / Mercury-moon conjunction for y’all

The slender crescent moon brushes Venus Tuesday morning at dawn low in the northeastern sky. The Pleiades star cluster, better known as the Seven Sisters, floats just above the pair. This map shows the sky facing northeast around 4 a.m. June 24. Stellarium

Wonder where the moon’s been hiding lately? Unless you’re up around 3 a.m. it’s been scarce this past week. All that time our favorite cratered world has been slimming down in the morning sky.

Now it’s a waning crescent fingernail, what many consider the moon’s most eye-catching phase.

Tuesday morning June 24 at dawn the thin crescent will join Venus in the constellation Taurus just below the pretty Pleiades star cluster. About 1 1/2 degrees or three moon diameters will separate Venus and the moon. To see this beautiful conjunction, look low in the northeastern sky at the start of dawn.

For the best view of the Seven Sisters, I recommend binoculars. Whenever I’ve had a reason to be up before sunrise in early summer I make a point of looking at the cluster. Taurus, neighboring Auriga and the Pleiades all belong to the winter sky, but we get a preview of that inevitable season as early as the first mornings of summer. There’s something delicious about seeing the first stars of winter as the robins sing in the dewy woods.

An extremely thin moon will pass very close to Mercury on Thursday morning June 26 as seen from the southern U.S. This view shows the sky facing northeast right around sunrise for New Orleans, LA. The moon will only be about 5 degrees high at the time. Use binoculars to find it. Seeing Mercury will require a small telescope. Stellarium

Live in the far southern U.S.? You’ve got one more lunar visitation. This one will be challenging. On Thursday morning, the moon, just 21 hours before new, will glide a fraction of a degree south of the planet Mercury in a bright sky only minutes before sunrise. The moon will hover very low (5 degrees) in the northeast in a bright sky. Whatever you do, bring binoculars. You might need them to find the moon at all.

Like the moon, Mercury’s an extremely thin crescent and very faint, shining at just magnitude 3.5. Skywatchers might spot it in binoculars, but I’m not betting on it. With very clear skies, there’s a chance of seeing the planet directly above the northern cusp of the moon with a small telescope. Should you succeed, you’ll be rewarded with the rare sight of two delicate crescents one atop the other. Find a location with a wide open view to the northeast and start looking about 15 minutes before sunrise.

The moon will cover up or occult the planet for observers in northern South America, but again, this will happen in a bright sky and prove tricky to see.

Just a reminder. Although no auroras showed last night at mid-latitudes, there’s still a chance for a minor storm tonight. I’ll send out a notice if that happens.

 

Don’t miss this Saturday’s Saturn-moon conjunction

The big picture in the southern sky this Saturday morning at dawn shows the moon just a degree below Saturn with Mars at upper right in the south and Venus very low in the southeastern sky. Stellarium

A very nice, close pairing of Saturn and the waning 3rd quarter moon will happen Saturday morning at dawn. With late sunrises still the rule, this should be a very easy event to catch even through a parted window shade.

At closest, the two will be just two moon widths or 1 degree apart. Saturn’s in Libra the Scales, a dim constellation that precedes the brighter, more picturesque Scorpius the Scorpion. You can see part of the scorpion to the lower left of the duo. In particular, look for the bright red supergiant star Antares.

Both Libra and Scorpius are late spring-early summer constellations, visible at nightfall in May when the butterflies fly. It’s thoughts like these that lift our spirits on cold winter nights. I had the same feeling two nights ago when I happened to be out observing around 11:30 p.m. and caught sight of a “new” star flashing in the northeastern sky – Arcturus. If there were ever a vanguard of spring, this star is it. Arcturus creeps higher every frigid night until the snow is gone, the leaves turn out and jackets are shed.

Mobile phone shot of Venus in twilight Monday morning. Credit: Sean Cassidy

While you’re out enjoying Saturday’s conjunction (by the way, Saturday’s named for the Roman god Saturn) stay out a little longer to enjoy the reappearance of Venus low in the southeastern sky about 40 minutes before sunrise. Sean’s photo will help you know what to expect.

The Unsolved Mystery of the Star of Bethlehem

The three Magi depicted in the Hortus Deliciarum by Herrad of Landsberg in 1185 AD. 

We’ll never know for sure what “star” the Magi saw when they set off from Babylon to Jerusalem seeking their newborn king, but that doesn’t stop us from wondering whether it might have had a natural cause. There are many possible explanations, a few of which we’ll explore here.

“For we have seen His star in the East (upon rising) and have come to worship him” reads the biblical account of the Three Wise Men. After meeting with King Herod, they rode south to Bethlehem:

“… and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.”

Precious little more was written about the star. If the Three Kings’ account had only mentioned a constellation or nearby star for reference, we could have narrowed down the possibilities. We do know the Magi’s general direction of travel and the accepted time frame of Christ’s birth between the years 7 and 2 B.C.

Bethlehem is 5.5 miles south of Jerusalem, where the Three Kings met with King Herod sometime around his death in 4 B.C.

We also know that whatever they saw moved from east to south. First visible in the east, the “star” next appeared over Bethlehem, located 5.5 miles (9 km) south of Jerusalem. As the Magi rode from Jerusalem they would have seen the apparition in the southern sky. Let’s now explore the possibilities:

* Meteors
I think we can rule out meteors or their brilliant cousins, fireballs, because they’re too brief a phenomenon, and the Kings saw the apparition on at least two occasions. Meteors also don’t “rise” but streak across the sky from any direction.

* Comets:

Woodcut showing destructive influence of a fourth century comet from Stanilaus Lubienietski’s Theatrum Cometicum (Amsterdam, 1668). Comets in the past were often described as “hanging” over a location much like the ”star” of Bethlehem, but were typically seen as augurs of doom.

Halley’s Comet would have been a bright naked eye sight in Gemini in the east before dawn in late August 12 B.C. and again in the northwestern evening sky in September. A tempting possibility but the time frame is wrong – too early for Christ’s birth.

But another comet recorded in the Book of Han was observed within the correct time frame by Chinese astronomers in 5 B.C.:

“Second year of the Chien-p’ing reign period, second month (5 B.C., March 9-April 6), a suibsing (tailed comet) appeared at Ch’ien-niu for over 70 days.”

The comet first appeared in the constellation Capricornus, which would have been visible in the eastern sky before dawn from the Middle East in early spring. Assuming it came into view just after perihelion (closest approach to the sun), it would have traveled to the west and into the southern sky roughly within the time frame required for the Wise Men to travel from the Babylon to Jerusalem and finally to Bethlehem.

Or the comet could have been seen in the east before perihelion and then crossed over into the west-southwestern evening sky as a brilliant post-perihelion sight. The Bible also mentions “shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night” at the time of the birth. This points to spring as being the likely season, the same as the comet’s period of visibility.

This almost sounds like an open and shut case except for a niggling detail. Comets were generally seen in ancient cultures as omens of doom and gloom, not bringers of good news like the birth of a new king. Comets scared people because they came out of nowhere and crossed the sky in unpredictable ways. To this day a bright comet’s appearance still stirs fears of impending catastrophe in some.

* Nova or supernova

A bright nova (temporary brightening of a white dwarf in a binary star system as it “feeds” on gas from its companion) or supernova would attract the attention of many. Most remain bright for weeks or months. Credit: creekandcave.com

Exploding stars are great candidates because they fit the description of a star, and in the case of a supernova, can appear as brilliant as Jupiter or Venus. That would certainly get the attention of the oriental astrologers, who kept a vigilant eye on the heavens waiting for the ancient prophecy of a “star” in Israel to be fulfilled.

Because of Earth’s revolution around the sun it’s even possible for a “new star” to appear first in one direction and then be visible a couple months later in another, especially if you factor in time of night. Unfortunately there are no records of novas or supernovas by the super-observant Chinese or anyone else occurring during the time frame.

* Conjunctions of bright planets

The western sky at the end of evening twilight on Feb. 25, 6 B.C. would have displayed a striking gathering of the planets Jupiter, Mars and Saturn. All three were within 7 degrees of each other. Created with Chris Marriott’s SkyMap software

Conjunctions occur when two or more bright celestial objects line up closely in the sky. A conjunction of two planets is not that unusual, but a gathering of three is and may have held great symbolic value in ancient times. One such triple conjunction involving Mars, Jupiter and Saturn took place in at dusk in the constellation Pisces on February 25, 6 B.C. Could this have inspired the Magi to begin their westward journey?

On Feb. 20, five days before the symmetrical gathering of planets , a very young evening crescent moon passed through the group. Created with Chris Marriott’s SkyMap software

Five days earlier the three were nearly as close and joined by a young crescent moon, an even more auspicious sight.

Of course there are problems with this scenario. The planets appeared in the western sky and the arrangement and number of planets visible would have changed months later when the kings rode to Bethlehem.

An amazing three conjunctions of Jupiter and Saturn from late May to early December 7 B.C. Created with Chris Marriott’s SkyMap software

A recurring conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn played out between May and December in 7 B.C. when the two planets were separated by just one degree (two full moon diameters) on three occasions in the constellation Pisces. The first close pass took place in the eastern morning sky on May 29; the second on Sept. 30 (southern evening sky) and the final pairing on Dec. 5, also in the southern evening sky.

A bright planet duo over so many months rates as an eye-catcher and the directions fit the bill, but the Magi described the object as a brilliant star, not a pair of stars. Even though a degree is a relatively small distance, it would have been easy to see them as two separate objects.

Venus and Jupiter just 0.6 arc minute apart – merged into one – on June 17, 2 B.C. Created with Chris Marriott’s SkyMap software

That brings us to the dual conjunctions of the two brightest planets of all – Jupiter and Venus – in the eastern sky at dawn from the Middle East on August 12, 3 B.C. and again 10 months later on Jun 17, 2 B.C. On both occasions astrologers would have watched the two planets come so close together they would have briefly merged into one before separating again.

OK, a keen eye might have separated the pair on August 12 when they were 2/5 of a moon diameter (12 arc minutes) apart, but they would have been far too tight on June 17 – just 0.6 arc minutes – for anything but a good pair of binoculars or telescope to split them.

During the first conjunction, the Magi would have seen this brilliant pairing in the eastern sky; on June 17 the following year, they lit up the western sky.

Despite appearing as a solitary brilliant “star”, this conjunction would not have been seen in the southern sky on a journey to Bethlehem but in the west, unless we interpret the direction implied in the Bible passage more broadly.

So what’s your pleasure? My best guesses for the Bethlehem Star are the Chinese comet of 4 B.C. or the pair of Jupiter-Venus conjunctions in 3 and 2 B.C. Or it could have been a succession of events – multiple conjunctions and a comet – that led the Magi to conclude that the prophecy of Christ’s birth would soon be fulfilled.

There’s another possibility – the supernatural. But that takes us outside the realm of science. Either way, the star remains a mystery, since we’ll never know for sure what caught the eye of the Three Wise Men as they scanned the heavens looking for signs of what would come.

For more on the topic, click HERE and HERE.

Jupiter and moon team up for a light show tonight

About 5 degrees will separate Jupiter and moon tonight. The map shows the sky facing east around 10 p.m. local time. Stellarium

Everything’s been Comet ISON lately. Since some of you may not care about comets I appreciate your indulgence. Tonight we have a totally non-comet event that everyone can see – a conjunction of the waning gibbous moon and brilliant Jupiter. No getting up at dawn to look. Just peel the shade back around 10 o’clock and gaze into the eastern sky.

Jupiter on Nov. 16, 2013 with its Great Red Spot. Tonight between 11 p.m. and midnight CST, the spot will be well-placed for viewing in Europe (morning hours) and much of the U.S. and Canada. Add one hour for Eastern time; subtract an hour for Mountain and 2 hours for Pacific. Credit: Damian Peach

BUT … if you do have a telescope, tonight is also ideal for spying Jupiter’s Great Red Spot across much of the U.S. and Canada. The Red Spot, a large high-pressure weather disturbance in the planet’s southern hemisphere, will be nicely-placed for viewing between about 11 p.m. and midnight CST. This year it’s distinctly redder than in previous years and therefore more obvious. Sometimes it’s pale brown or salmon and tricky to see.

Use a magnification of 75x or higher and look for a red oval in the planet’s southern hemisphere. The photo shows the planet the way it looks in a typical telescope with south up and east to the right.

Comet Lovejoy buzzes the Beehive Cluster / Moon, Venus “Christmas” conjunction

Comet Lovejoy, glowing green from fluorescing gases, passes below the Beehive star cluster early this morning. Notice the comet’s short tail pointing up to the west. Details: 200mm telephoto at f/2.8, ISO 800, 70-second exposure. Credit: Bob King

Clouds ruled most of last night but not at 1 a.m. this morning when Comet Lovejoy came up over the trees next to the Beehive Cluster in the constellation Cancer. The comet was very easy to see in 10×50 binoculars as a small, glowing patch alongside the larger spray of stars that make up the cluster.

The moon and Venus in a “triple conjunction” with the big ball on the Christmas tree at Bentleyville Christmas display in downtown Duluth last night. Credit: Bob King

Presently at magnitude 6-6.5, Lovejoy will soon become a naked eye comet for observers with dark skies as it sails northward toward the Big Dipper. I can’t wait. It’s been many months since we’ve had a comet that didn’t require a set of glass eyes to see.

The crescent moon hovers of the LED ball atop the Christmas tree. Credit: Bob King

Do you remember the last bright comet? That would have been L4 PANSTARRS last spring. Many struggled to find it because it was only visible for a short time in bright twilight before setting. Though Lovejoy won’t get nearly as bright, skywatchers can follow it into winter with binoculars and small telescopes.

Did you happen to see Venus and moon at dusk yesterday evening? I caught them shining together over our city’s big Christmas lighting display and couldn’t resist a few photos of this rare “triple conjunction”.

If you’re interested in photographing the moon in twilight, you can do it so long as you can hand-hold your camera at 1/30 – not too tough a task. Compose a scene that includes the moon and start shooting about 30 minutes after sunset, when the twilight glow and moonlight are in balance. Let the camera figure the exposure and check the back replay to see if you’re on the money.