Friday, November 28, 2008

Astronomy Alert! Ménage á trois...



Get your mind out of the gutter! We’re talking Astronomy here. We are about to have a super cool celestial event that almost everyone can enjoy. It’s already in progress. On the evening of December 1, 2008, we’re going to have a close encounter, or, in astronomy terms, a “conjunction” of Jupiter, Venus, and the Moon. On the Monday night, these three will be so close together that you’ll be able to see them all together, even in a single binocular field. And they are already BRIGHT! So bright, that even with terrible light pollution you can see them.

If you’re in North or South America, right after sunset, look close to the southwestern horizon, just as it is beginning to get dark. The Moon will be in what is known as a “waxing crescent.” That means that the portion of the Moon, which is reflecting the light from the Sun, is a thin crescent which will be growing over the coming nights. Venus and Jupiter are the two bright objects just below, or the West of the Moon. Venus is the brighter of the two objects.

Regretfully, if you’re in Europe - you have a problem. The Moon will have occulted, or will have moved in front of Venus. So the single bright object which you see next to the Moon is Jupiter. Still pretty cool! Sorry, but for you, Venus doesn’t move from behind the Moon until after they have all set.

If you’re in the Far East, Venus and Jupiter will be just above, or East of, the crescent Moon before it sinks toward the western horizon.

If you’re in Madagascar, or southeastern Africa, you get to see the coolest of all. Depending upon where you are, you get to see the Moon occult both Venus and Jupiter. It is possible that you may even see Venus and Jupiter skim the edges of the Moon as they pass behind it.

Now for an appearing non sequitur: When I was in college, in that tender age when dinosaurs ruled the world, my History Professor’s maiden name was that of one of the great European royal houses. She opened my eyes to aspects of history that had never occurred to this naïve little Southern girl. It had never occurred to me that “that” treaty, which put and end to “that” war, was signed because: Oh My! Great Aunt Sophie went to bed with King Biggy the night before! Goodness only knows who else Great Aunt Sophie went to bed with. But, goodness only knows how many lives Great Aunt Sophie may have saved.

Bringing this bit of nonsense into focus, and just as a bit of fun speculation, let’s consider what the Ancients would have thought of this event. To the Ancients, the Planets (or Wanderers), the Moon, and the Sun were gods, and their godlike movements influenced our humanlike lives on Earth. Jupiter, in the Western Mythological Tradition, was always associated with the king of the gods (King Biggy). Venus (Great Aunt Sophie) was generally associated with erotic love; and the Moon with Diana/Artemis (your guess is as good as mine), and the hunt and childbirth. What would possibly be going on when these three got together? Which room of the house were they in? What were they talking about? How was it going to affect my insignificant, uncertain world? Food for some interesting stories, huh?

Start watching tonight and follow the developments as Venus, Jupiter and the Moon grow closer together each night. May your skies be clear.

Happy Viewing,

Frances Drake

Writing Science Fiction Romance
Real Love in a Real Future

5 comments:

Jace said...

Frances, just wanted to let you know that we saw this as a "smiley face" in Malaysia. :-) Two bright stars as the eyes and the crescent moon as the smile.

Frances said...

Hi Jace,

You might want to check this URL:

http://spaceweather.com/conjunctions/gallery_01dec08.htm

Isn't it wonderful how the appearence of the conjunction changed from where it was viewed on Earth? :-)

Jace said...

Thanks for the link! The images are fantastic. :-D

Kimber An said...

It was very cool. Here in Alaska, winter time is the best time for star gazing, provided it's not snowing. In the summer, we have sunshine around the clock and can't see the stars.

Frances said...

Jace,

I thought that you would like that. A friend passed it to me and I got to pass it on to you. Fun!

KimberAn,

I know what you mean. I've been to Fairbanks in November, March, and August. Your state is astonishingly beautiful... any time of the year. I love the auroras especially.