Sunday, February 26, 2012

A Winter's Night's Lights

 The astronomy magazines have been writing about the bright mid-winter alignment of Jupiter, Venus and the moon. Last evening was the first chance I've had to see them huddle together as we've had night after night of heavy clouds.

 I ran the view I could expect at 6:30 pm (just barely past sunset but already dark enough for these three bright players to show themselves) with Stellarium, an open source program I find easy to use, accurate and free. Here's the view it told me to expect:

 And here's the view I got:

 A day or so before I might have seen them in a straight line - even more interesting than this triangular configuration - but, as I said, the weather would not cooperate. To say the three were brilliant would be an understatement: they commanded the western sky.

 Placing a tree in the frame gives the alignment some perspective. The triumvirate covered a large chunk of celestial real estate. It would have only been more spectacular had Jupiter been closer to the other two. But surely this trio was enough to stop traffic. How many UFO reports were phoned in?

 Finally this shot, perhaps my favorite (though it must be viewed in a darkened room to fully appreciate the backdrop of pines), taken through a gap in the trees at the western edge of our property. To make slightly dimmer Jupiter jump out, I have to increase the exposure a bit and bring the moon a little too bright.

 While I'm standing there, enjoying the view, I looked to the south, up over the barn, and saw that Orion was due south. It's my favorite for it's expansive rectangle and it's two rows of almost-perfectly aligned stars. I believe Orion, next to the Big Dipper, was the first constellation I learned as a young child.

 The three stars in Orion's "belt" (upper left) are Mintaka (top to bottom), Alnilam and Alnitak. Two of the outlying stars in the rectangle are seen in this shot ... Rigel on the right and Saiph on the lower left. In the middle of the shot is the area of the Orion Nebula Complex (M42 and M43). With a longer exposure, the varied colors begin to show themselves ... oranges, yellows, reds.

 I cannot do them justice with an inexpensive digital camera though a 15 second exposure, though blurry, begins to resolve the bluer colors and the nebulosity of the spot. The area is stretched due to the earth's rotation.

 It was a cold evening with the temperature plummeting through the 20's. The wind, at least, had mostly calmed and I wasn't too uncomfortable. These beautiful sights come so rarely that I can't help stand there and enjoy them.

1 comment:

  1. Great Pics My wife and I went out a couple times during the evening to enjoy this.