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The Great Spring Triangle

Well, I say great. It probably would have been great – beyond great! – if I’d been looking at Venus, Jupiter and Mercury forming their sunset triangle in a perfectly clear sky, as it had been the previous night, but last night my luck broke and I had to grab a quick view of the triple planetary conjunction before bands of cloud reared up from beyond the north western horizon, devouring the planetary parade.

But at least I saw it! Many people didn’t because their weather was even worse than mine, so no complaints, and I managed to get a few photos too, so no complaints at all! 🙂

So, I hiked up the hill to the castle just after nine, with my rucksack full of cameras, tripods, binocs and more, and I was all ready for a good, quiet night’s planet viewing, and photography – only to have the usually blissful silence of the hilltop ruined by a group of yobs who were clambering all over the castle ruins, smashing at the rocks and stones and banging on the metal framework. As soon as they saw me they started hurling abuse at me too, which I was less bothered about to be honest than the damage I worried they were doing to the castle, which I’m very fond of as you’ll know if you’re a regular reader. I took this for so long, then phoned in my concerns to the police. I have to say the operator seemed less than concerned, but she did eventually take my number, and told me she’d arrange for someone to be there “soon”.

Eventually the castle cretins got tired of smashing up rocks, and grew bored of hurling abuse at me, and left, heading back down into town still shouting and howling like demented whatevers. When I left the castle an hour later – planets viewed, photos taken – no-one from the police had shown up. Looks like possible criminal damage to a historic monument isn’t that big a deal. That’s a great shame.

Anyway… back to the planets! Here are some of the photos I took…

May 26th a

That pic shows the planetary triangle clearly. That’s Jupiter on the left, Venus on the right, Mercury at the top. Another view, enhanced to bring out the planets’ brightnesses…

May 26th c

And finally, a view of the planets as cloud devoured them from beyond the horizon. I was able to follow them for about a minute more after this photo was taken, but that was it…

May 26th b

You might have to click on the image to enlarge it if you want to see the planets clearly.

…and that might be It. Tonight the weather here in Cumbria is rubbish – the sky is totally overcast, and I’ve about as much chance of seeing the planets tonight as I have of walking on Mars at the weekend. But at least I managed to see the Great Spring Triangle last night. 🙂

Planets on parade tonight…

May 26 twilight

If you notice a strange triangle of lights shining low in the sunset sky like that this evening – not blinking, not flashing, just hanging there – don’t panic! It’s not an alien spaceship, we’re not being invaded. Those lights are actually planets.

At the moment, the planets Jupiter, Venus and Mercury are all gathered together in the twilight sky after sunset. They’ve been moving together slowly for a while, and tonight is the night they make their “closest approach” and will appear to form a perfect triangle after dark. Astronomers have been looking forward to this for ages, so we’re all hoping for clear skies!

To see this rare “triple planetary conjunction” (not due to happen again until October 2015) you’ll need to be somewhere with a low and flat north western horizon, i.e no hills, trees or buildings to block your view. You’ll also need clear sky right down to the horizon.

Start looking to the NW at around 9.45pm (in the UK) and you’ll soon notice a lone, silvery “star” shining in the twilight. That’s Venus! Having found that, wait for it to get a little darker, and then you’ll spot Mercury – fainter – shining above Venus, and Jupiter (brighter than Mercury but fainter than Venus) shining to their left, the three worlds forming a perfect triangle. You’ll see this with your naked eye, no telescope needed, but if you have binoculars use them, they’ll make the planets stand out more clearly. By 10.40 or so the planets will have set.

Tomorrow night the triangle will have “broken up” and the planets will have spread apart a little, so really you should try your best to see this tonight.

Amazingly, the Cumbrian clouds parted long enough last night to enable me to see and photograph the three planets “on approach” as it were. I went up toKendal Castle to try and get some photos, and I’m very pleased with how they turned out…

Thre planets May 25th 2013 no caption

Three planets May 25th 2013 SA

Three planets May 25th 2013 SA b

As I write this the sky outside my window is beautifully clear and shocking blue, so I’m hoping I’ll be able to see and photograph the Triangle tonight. That will be really beautiful I think… Let you know tomorrow!