Thursday, April 22, 2010

Venus and Mercury - 12 days ago

I wanted to write about this back on April 10 or 11 but I didn't get a good picture of it so I didn't think it was worthwhile posting about it. But today, a friend pointed out a series of pictures taken by a much better photographer that shows the event beautifully. I don't want to show the picture here because it is copyrighted and is shown on another site by permission. I will post a link to it so you can see it in all its glory.

On April 7, the morning TV news weather forecaster mentioned that Venus and Mercury were going to be visible just after sunset that evening and they were going to appear close in the sky. My son Evan loves the stars and planets so we decided to try to see them. We first tried to see them that evening but clouds on the horizon obscured them. Then it rained or was overcast until April 10. That night, the conditions were perfect. We went to a west-facing beach so nothing would be in our way. In was cool and a strong wind was blowing in from the water. Also, it was high tide so there wasn't much beach to stand on. But we were patient. Finally, stars and planets began to appear. We saw Venus first. Then we saw Sirius, Rigel and Mars. It got darker and chillier as the wind picked up. Then we could make out Saturn and Betelgeuse (it hasn't gone supernova yet).We were so intent on looking up that we didn't notice the waves coming in and we got wet a few times. But it didn't matter. The wonder of looking for a planet we'd never seen before was more important.

Finally, we saw Mercury, too. I have looked for Mercury for as long as I can remember but this was the first time I'd seen it. You can barely see Mercury in these pictures. You'll easily see Venus in the top picture. Look in the lower right of Venus and you'll see Mercury. You can click on the picture to see it a bit better but, as I said, my pictures are pretty bad.

The second picture, shows the still-glowing horizon along with Venus and Mercury. You'll see some lights along the horizon. Those are from the towns across the bay from the beach. You'll never see Mercury without clicking on this picture and even then it is faint. If you click on the picture here to expand it and look to the lower right of Venus, you'll see a little red circle. No, Mercury doesn't have rings like Saturn (and Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune) - that's a circle I drew on the picture to show where Mercury is. I love my camera (a Lumix (Panasonic) DMC-FZ7) but it doesn't do very well in low-light situations. I even used a tripod and let the camera extend the length the shutter was open to gather more light but it was just too dark and the image is grainy. Plus, the strong wind was moving the tripod!

Now for the picture that got me to make this post. It is on the Astronomy Picture of the Day website at NASA. The particular picture related to this post is here. It is a composite of eight pictures taken from April 4 through April 15 with the crescent Moon making an appearance on the last day. The clouds and horizon must be from just one of the days or the clouds would not be as distinct as they are. Isn't it amazing? You can almost see the orbit of Mercury. It's much further from the Sun than I imagined. God has made a fascinating, wonderful place for us to live to see things like this. Praise the Lord!

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