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Monday, May 20, 2013


Dance of the Planets, May 20-June 4 2013

Western horizon as seen from Adelaide at 5:45 pm ACST on 24 May, when Venus and Mercury are closest. Similar views will be seen from the rest of the southern hemisphere at the equivalent local time. Click on any image to embiggenWestern horizon as seen from Adelaide at 5:45 pm ACST on 26 May, when all 3 planets are within a circle 3° across.
Western horizon as seen from Adelaide at 5:45 pm ACST on 28 May, when Venus and Jupiter are closest.Western horizon as seen from Adelaide at 5:45 pm ACST on 31 May, when all the planets are in a straight line.

Over the next week there will be a beautiful sight as the three planets Mercury, Venus and Jupiter dance around each other in the twilight.

You don't need a telescope to see this, just your eyes. The conjunction is quite close to the western horizon though, you will need a level, clear horizon to see it at its best. Ocean or desert is best, or somewhere high.

The planets will be between 4 finger-widths (4 degrees) and a bit over a hand span (7 degrees) above the horizon half an hour after Sunset. A hand-span is the with of your hand making a "stop" sign when your arm is held out straight in front of you.

Although half an hour after Sunset is the best trade-off between visibility and hight above the horizon, I found I could see Venus and Jupiter at least 25 minutes after Sunset, you might like to try looking earlier too. Successful photography will have to wait until the sky is somewhat darker so the planets are not washed out

Mercury and Venus are closest on 24 May All 3 planets are within 3 degrees of each other on 26 and 27 May, then  Jupiter and Mercury are closest on 27 May, Jupiter and Venus are closest on 28 May. Finally all 3 form a straight line on 31 May.

The simulations exaggerate the size of the planets. This photo is more like what you will see only the planets are brighter and clearer with the unaided eye.

Venus and Jupiter as seen from Adelaide on 17 May, 2013. Imaged with a Canon IXUS, 1/4 sec exposure, ASA 400 3x Zoom at 5:55 pm ACST. Jupiter is the dot at the top right, Venus is bottom left, indicated by the yellow lines. You will need to click on the image to embiggen to see Venus clearly.

A video of the encounter is below:

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