To all intents and purposes the 2012 Great Spring Conjunction is now over; having snuggled up close last week, Venus and Jupiter are now moving apart again in the evening sky, and that sky is getting steadily brighter as we move into Spring, so, for myself at least, I think it’s time to consider the show as being well and truly over, especially as the weather forecast for Kendal is for another week of absolutely ****** night skies. I managed to grab a few more pictures on Sunday night, during my break at work, which I really think will be my last decent shots of the conjunction. Here they are…
(That’s my workplace, by the way…)
I really like that last one because it shows the two planets in the same field of view as Orion and Taurus, which helps to give it a sense of scale, don’t you think?
I have very fond memories of this conjunction, despite it being ruined, in part, by the godawful weather. I spent a lot of time up at the castle, alone, just drinking in the view of the planets shining above Kendal, the only sound the click and ka-chunk of my camera taking pictures; I had a very enjoyable viewing session at Kendal Museum, just before an Eddington AS meeting, when everyone there stood in the car park looking at Venus and Jupiter shining brightly above the Muesum; Stella and I had a fantastic view on the shore of Lake Windermere, for a few precious minutes, before the cloud rolled back in, obliterating everything. And I’ve really enjoyed taking photographs on my work breaks, escaping from there for half an hour to return to the real world and do what I really love doing, grabbing half an hour of Real Life before returning to what I do… I really do resent (which is daft, I know, but it’s how I feel) missing the closest conjunction because of that period of absolutely abyssmal weather, which went on and on and on, Cumbria smothered in thick, heavy, ash-grey cloud while the rest of the country ooh’d and aah’d over the amazing sight in the west. But I did manage (I think! It’s for others to say really!) to get some half-decent images, and here are some of my favourites…
So, that’s that, well, pretty much. Soon Venus and Jupiter will be too far apart to deserve the label “a striking pair”, they’ll just be in the same direction, gradually fading in the twilight. Actually, Venus will continue to get brighter for a while, and isn’t quite at its highest point yet, so do keep an eye on it, and make an effort to get out of town, away from as many lights as possible, and enjoy the Evening Star from a truly dark site. You might even see it casting faint shadows if where you are is reeeeealy dark…
I think it’s fair to say that this conjunction has been a major event not just for astronomers and skywatchers, but for the general public too. I mean, the two planets shining so close together have been impossible to miss, and I bet that most amateur astronomers have had a huge increase in the number of people asking them about the night sky. So, when this is over, what next? Will there be any other conjunctions, or naked eye sky events, that will catch the eye of the man or woman in the street? What else have we got to look forward to
Well, guided by the new edition of Francis Reddy’s brilliant “Celestial Delights” I had a play about on Starry Night and Stellarium to see what the rest of 2012 has in store for us, and here’s what I found. Note: some of the following conjunctions/alignments will be hard to see for non-astronomers because they’ll occur in a bright dawn/dusk sky, and low, but others will be slap across the face obvious to everyone. Most, by the look of it, are pre-dawn events, so people will have to make an effort to see them by getting up early, but they’ll definitely be worth it. And I think people who have been fascinated by the Venus and Jupiter Show will now really want to see other sky events like these, I really do.
Ok, here you go… feel free to open up Stellarium or whatever planetarium software you use yourself to check out how these events will look from where you live…
That last one is a long way off, I know, but those two planets will be shining so close together they’ll be visible through a telescope at the same time! That’s going to be incredible! But we’ve a while to wait for that! 🙂
Finally, some things I learned whilst photographing this recent conjunction:
* Always, ALWAYS use the timer delay on your camera if it has one. You might think you can press the shutter button very lightly, softly enough to not make the camera shake, but trust me, you can’t and you won’t. One night I didn’t bother with my camera’s timer and thought I had so little time between drifting cloud that I would just use my finger, and all but three of the thirty plus shots I took were rubbish.
* Don’t bother taking photographs when the sky is dark. The best time is when there’s still some blue left in the sky, when there’s enough light to see features on the ground, too. If you photograph planets in a dark sky they will just look like bright dots; in a dawn or dusk sky they’ll look much prettier.
* Not new, I know, but find somewhere to take your photographs that will give you a good foreground, and plenty of foreground options. A flat horizon is a boring horizon. I’m lucky that I have a beautiful, historic, ruined castle to take pictures from, but even if I didn’t I’d still be using trees, other buildings, etc. During the daytime, keep an eye open for locations around you which might offer great foregrounds for astrophotography. It will be time well spent!
* Batteries – make sure they’re charged before you go out. In fact, as soon as you get back from a celestial photo safari, before you even take the memory card out of your camera to start downloading the images you took, take the battery out of your camera and put it on to charge. Again, time well spent.
* Don’t be afraid to experiment, and to take gazillions of pictures, with different exposures, ASA settings, etc; you’ll be surprised at how lovely “That will never work!” pictures can be! And it’s not as if you’re back in 1995 using rolls of extortionately-expensive 400ASA colour slide film, is it? 🙂
* Every now and again – STOP. Step away from the camera, find a quiet spot, just on your own, and simply look at the sky. It’s so easy to get into a photographic feeding frenzy, to take one picture after another, and another, and another!! There’s a cloud over there! I must take another picture! Remember that when you first started skywatching you had no equipment at all – no binoculars, no telescope, and certainly no fancy DSLR camera! As soon as you’ve got a few images on your memory card, take a breather, walk away from the camera and just look at what you’re photographing. Your memory card might be faulty, your PC might crash, then your images will count for nothing. But look, I mean really look, and those images will be stored in the wet drive inside your head, and you’ll have them forever. 🙂
I hope you’ve all enjoyed the conjunction, and that you got some nice pictures of your own. If you didn’t, well, you’ll have plenty more chances during the rest of 2012.
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