Sunday, December 10, 2006

Conjunction Junction?

Of a planetary nature.

This morning, the planets Mercury, Mars and Jupiter were only 0.3 degrees apart, and there won't be a "triple conjunction" like this until 2053. So naturally, I had to witness it.

The original plan was to just drive up to a local overlook and take some photos as the planets were rising in the morning twilight. That way I could get the shots, see the conjunction, and get back home, as it was surely going to be cold outside. But plans never survive the first minutes, as usual.

I got up around 6.30am, got dressed, grabbed the camera stuff, and headed out the door. I headed the car out to the northwest on the expressway, and halfway to my destination I decided that my brother was correct the night before, and the planned observing place would be too light, even in morning twilight. And by light, I mean light pollution. So I banged a u-turn on the expressway and headed southeast out of town towards the observatory. I had taken photos on the moon - and even another conjunction years earlier - on an out-of-the-way county road south of Lowell.

I could see morning twilight getting stronger as I headed east on the various roadways, and the star Vega was shining bright in the northeastern sky. By the time I navigated my way to the new destination, I could clearly see the planets hanging low in the southeast sky.

I jumped out of the car, opened the trunk, grabbing my tripod and camera. I had to work fast, as the skies were getting brighter by the second, and I needed to shoot these photos before it was too bright.

Oh yeah, did I mention yet it was really cold? And windy? I had to stand to the side of the tripod so the wind wouldn't shake the camera during the exposures.

I wasn't sure about the correct exposure times, so I bracketed. I learned that years ago in photography class: film is cheap, bracket to get the shot. So I ran the shutter speeds up and down from a 1/2 second to 15 seconds, hoping to get something.

The only problem I had was cold hands, as I had to take my gloves off to work the settings and dials on the camera. By the time I had shot the last frame, I actually couldn't feel my fingers. I could have shot more - as I had more film - but I decided that 20+ images was enough. I had seen the once-in-a-lifetime triple conjunction and taken photos of it.

It was now after 7.30am, and I drove back into town and dropped the roll of film off at the local one-hour place, and went back home.

After a little nap, I went back up and picked up the photos. They turned out, but they could have been better. So I went back home, scanned the best ones in, and sent them in to Spaceweather.com and the local television station. I just hope they use them.

I normally would have sent the photos to a second local TV station, but the meteorologist there back in November said - on the air - that someone else was his "go to guy" for astronomy images. So screw him.

Now let's hope for clear skies Wednesday night for the Geminid meteors.

1 comment:

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