Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Occultation of Venus

Yesterday, observers in North America were treated to a rare celestial alignment as the waning crescent moon passed in front of Venus.  At approximately 9:23 AM Venus was covered by the illuminated edge of the moon as it (the moon) slowly trekked eastward across our sky.  I had my eye on the sky all morning in anticipation of this event and did not think I would get to see it as the sky had a thick covering of cirrus even before sunrise.

If I have learned one thing in my life as an amateur astronomer, it is much better to attempt to make a trip or an observation in the face of uncertain weather,than to throw in the towel in advance.  It is weather after all- it is unpredictable.  Countless times I have awoken during the night to make an observation that others skipped because it was overcast when they went to bed...and certainly I have driven 16 hours to a star party and been clouded out for 4 nights! (Texas Star Party).

In this spirit, I loaded up my binoculars, camera, lens, extender and tripod into a backpack and took them to work with me...At 8:30 AM I looked outside and the sky was a mess in the area where the moon would be.  So much so that I went back inside and nearly forgot about the occultation.  At 9:15 I remembered it was about to happen and grabbed my equipment and ran outside.  Sure enough, the haze had thinned just to the point where I could barely see the moon! It was difficult to focus and I was in a terrible hurry to catch Venus before it disappeared, yet I managed to get the image below.  It is nothing to write home about, but considering the effort I went to observe this occultation, I figured it deserved a post!

My friend and comrade in astronomy Dean Ketelsen has a very nice post on his blog with better images of the occulation.  In addition, Dale Cupp (also a friend and a volunteer who works with me) took the amazing image below through his 11-inch telescope.

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