Tag Archives: Venus

A Must See Planetary Alignment

Back in May 2002, I was treated to an amazing planetary alignment. Just after sunset, I could see all of the naked eye planets, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn all lined up in the sky. You can read about it on the American Association of Amateur Astronomers website, which shows how websites looked back in 2002.

That was the first time I’d ever been able to see Mercury.  But to see all of the naked eye planets was incredible.  It happened again in 2005, but I didn’t see that. However, for the next month, you can see it in the morning just before dawn. So, you have to get up early to see this! It’ll be visible in the east, so you’ll need a good spot to view it from and clear skies. For those of us in the northern hemisphere, it means braving the cold. It begins January 20th and ends on February 20th.

This video does a good job at illustrating what you’ll see.

Are you going to get up early to see this alignment?

A New Year in Japan – Pre-dawn

It’s already been a while since we got up this morning. We woke up at 4 am, and got ready to go out. We left home around 5:20 am, and walked to the station. We were greeted by very clear skies and a couple wonderful celestial sights.

As soon as we walked out the door, the moon was bright in the sky with Jupiter nearby.

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Walking out to the sidewalk, another bright light was visible. It was the Morning Star, or more correctly, the planet Venus. It was very bright.

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We walked to the station and got on the train. It was full, but we could get on. After a few stations, it was packed like the subway in Tokyo during rush hour. We couldn’t move! Watching the people swaying was like we were all caught in a wave pool, or a train full of sloshing water. Our daughter complained a lot. When we got off the train, the sky was already getting light.

Next post: sunrise from Enoshima!

A Wishlist for Solar System Exploration

Space exploration has been quite exciting in recent years.  Mercury, Venus, the Moon, Mars, and Saturn currently have probes in orbit or on the surface.  There are probes en route to Pluto, Ceres, Mars, and Jupiter.  There are planned probes to Venus, Mars, the Moon, asteroids,  and Jupiter’s moons.  There’s a lot going on.  However, I feel there could be more.

I have six missions in mind that I would like to see happen.  These are currently not planned, but some have been discussed in recent years.

240px-Venus_globeVenus Lander and Flyer

Venus currently has an orbiter, and has had several orbiters and landers in the past.  It has been completely mapped by radar, and the atmosphere is currently being studied.  Although there have been landings in the past by the Soviet space program, those landers succumbed to Venus’ incredibly high temperatures and volatile atmosphere.  I’d like to see a lander built to survive on the surface and provide us with several weeks of data.  I’d also like to see a flyer that can observe both the atmosphere and the landscape.  Maybe it can also see lightning.

Europa-moonEuropa Lander

Galileo studied Europa, and there’s currently a probe on its way to Jupiter to study the planet, as well as the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer planned to launch in 2022, but nothing planned to land on Europa.  This is one of those places in our solar system that may have life.  It has a liquid ocean under its icy crust, and that ocean is covering a silicate mantle.  It’s quite possible that it could be geologically active with hot smokers like in Earth’s oceans, where microbial life may exist.  But we have to be careful not to contaminate the world if we drill through the ice into the ocean.

Titan_natural_colorTitan Lander

Saturn’s largest moon has already been visited by a lander, the Huygens probe, but it only lasted a short time.  Cassini has done a great job seeing through the clouds to study this remarkably Earth-like moon’s hydrocarbon lakes in the polar regions.  Titan needs a dedicated lander that can study the conditions for a much longer time.  Perhaps a flyer would be useful, as well.  I’d love to see some of Titan’s landscapes.

240px-Uranus2Uranus Orbiter

Uranus has only been visited once, by Voyager 2.  This is a fascinating planet that’s sitting on its side.  It has a ring system and plenty of very interesting moons, like Miranda, Titania, Ariel, Umbriel, and Oberon.  This is a system that needs to be studied up close by a dedicated orbiter.  We also need to understand more about the interior of the planet, as it’s most likely very ice.  It’s called an ice giant, not a gas giant.

244px-NeptuneNeptune Orbiter

The other ice giant, Neptune, has also been visited by Voyager 2.  This planet has a more dynamic-looking atmosphere, but most of the moons are quite small.  However, it has a unique moon, Triton, that is likely to be a captured Kuiper Belt object.  It’s also geologically active.  The most distant planet in the solar system needs an orbiter.

Eris_and_dysnomia2Eris Probe

The largest dwarf planet (larger than Pluto) should be explored in the future, as well.  It’s a lot farther away than Pluto, but it could be reachable by a probe within our lifetime, I hope.  Pluto will be explored next year, but I’d love to see what Eris is like, too.  What is a world so far away like?  It would be amazing to see it.

These are the missions I would love to see in my lifetime.  I’m anxious to know about these worlds.  What would you like to see?

Celestial Rendezvous

As many people know, I am a bit of a science geek.  I was the science geek in high school, and I even got a degree in physics and astronomy in University.  Science is something that drives a lot of my thoughts.  I’m always reading about science, looking around at nature, and looking up at the sky.  I love science, yet I enjoy reading science fiction, even if it isn’t very scientifically accurate.  But on the topic of science, I saw something amazing earlier this week.  I’m sure many of you saw the same thing.

There was a conjunction of 3 bright lights in the sky, Venus, Jupiter and the crescent moon.  I hadn’t seen anything this wonderful in the sky since the planetary alignment of 2002, when all 5 visible planets could be seen at above the horizon after sunset.  Incidentally, that was the first time I saw Mercury.  For the past month, Venus and Jupiter have been hanging out together in the evening sky to the west after sunset.  I managed to get a couple of pictures of this sight with my phone.

Venus and Jupiter over the Fujisawa sky. Venus is the brighter planet.
Here's a closer view of Venus and Jupiter.

I was quite impressed when I saw this.  At the same time, red Mars was shining brightly overhead, while Saturn was rising to the east along with the moon.  But this wasn’t the best to be seen.  The moon moved its way across the sky as it always does, and settle right between Venus and Jupiter.  Perfect!  It was a wonderful opportunity to take another picture of a celestial meeting.

A crescent moon slipped between Venus and Jupiter.

Mars and Saturn were also visible at the time, so 4 of the 5 visible planets were above the horizon.  Unfortunately, Mercury is on the wrong side of the sun to be visible in the evening.  With good timing, it could be visible just before sunrise, though.

This has been an incredible winter and spring to watch the skies.  I was treated to a total lunar eclipse and I was able to see a few meteors during a meteor shower.  I hope you’ve all enjoyed watching the same amazing events.