Spectacular Conjunction: Dec. 1st

Editor’s Note: Driving home from Kingston last night, I noticed two stars hanging like spotlights in the sky, paling all the others in comparison. But they were too bright for stars, I knew they must be planets. It turns out they’re Venus and Jupiter. Using my astrology cheat-sheet, I know Venus has something to do with love, and Jupiter with the quest for knowledge. The NASA article below describes the night sky as these two planets inch towards each other, and I’m going to pay attention to the merging of Cupid’s arrow and a very interesting textbook: sounds like the potential for really good sex coming our way on Dec. 1st. And if that doesn’t work out, you can at least snap a couple of beautiful photographs of the Venus-Jupiter-Moon conjunction. –RA

This story ends with the best sky show of the year–a spectacular three-way conjunction of Venus, Jupiter and the crescent Moon.

It begins tonight with a sunset stroll.

At the end of the day, when the horizon is turning red and the zenith is cobalt-blue, step outside and look southwest. You’ll see Venus and Jupiter beaming side-by-side through the twilight. Glittering Venus is absolutely brilliant and Jupiter is nearly as bright as Venus. Together, they’re dynamite.

Add another stick of TNT and voila!—it’s tomorrow. Go outside at the same time and look again. You’ll be amazed at how much the Venus-Jupiter gap has closed. The two planets are converging, not in the slow motion typical of heavenly phenomena, but in a headlong rush—almost a full degree (two full Moon widths) per night. As the gap shrinks, the beauty increases.

On Nov. 29th (sky map) the two planets will be less than 3 degrees apart and you’ll think to yourself “surely it can’t get any better than this.”
And then it will. On Nov. 30th (sky map) a slender 10% crescent Moon leaps up from the horizon to join the show. The delicate crescent hovering just below Venus-Jupiter will have cameras clicking around the world.

Dec. 1st (sky map) is the best night of all. The now-15% crescent Moon moves in closer to form an isosceles triangle with Venus and Jupiter as opposing vertices. The three brightest objects in the night sky will be gathered so tightly together, you can hide them all behind your thumb held at arm’s length.

Assuming good weather, the celestial triangle will be visible from all parts of the world, even from light-polluted cities. People in New York and Hong Kong will see it just as clearly as astronomers watching from remote mountaintops. Only cloudy weather or a midnight sun (sorry Antarctica!) can spoil the show.

A sky map of the triple conjunction on Dec. 1, 2008. More maps: Nov. 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, Dec. 1 2008.
A sky map of the triple conjunction on Dec. 1, 2008. More maps: Nov. 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, Dec. 1 2008.

Although you can see the triangle with naked eyes–indeed, you can’t miss it — a small telescope will make the evening even more enjoyable. In one quick triangular sweep, you can see the moons and cloud-belts of Jupiter, the gibbous phase of Venus (69% full), and craters and mountains on the Moon. It’s a Grand Tour you won’t soon forget.

Right: A sky map of the triple conjunction on Dec. 1, 2008. More maps: Nov. 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, Dec. 1 2008.

Finally, look up from the eyepiece and run your eyes across the Moon. Do you see a ghostly image of the full Moon inside the bright horns of the crescent? That’s called “Earthshine” or sometimes “the da Vinci glow” because Leonardo da Vinci was the first person to explain it: Sunlight hits Earth and ricochets to the Moon, casting a sheen of light across the dark lunar terrain.

By itself, a crescent Moon with Earthshine is one of the loveliest sights in the heavens. Add Venus and Jupiter and … well … it’s time to stop reading and go mark your calendar:

Dec. 1st @ sunset: Sky show of the year!

2 thoughts on “Spectacular Conjunction: Dec. 1st”

  1. What a breath of fresh air you are!

    The same fascination I found in nature when I fell into the pond of naturalists is so easily shared and received. Tonite the people I emailed about this view from the earth you have pointed out, will look up in awe. As I dig deeper into my yard and find new native plants and edible weeds I share this conversation with visitors. For some reason, they hone into this information and are willing to come take a look see at the value of the small but huge things they tread upon without a second thought. Painting a picture about the surrounding land forms and glacial deposits, we look at the land differently and become acquainted with natural systems. There is something about it. How much we have missed while we where running around to and fro within the confines of social structuring. My only reason to think this is true is my fascination and the shared interest.

    Astronomy good.

  2. Wow, where to start. First off thank you Rachel for consulting your “cheat-sheet” and letting us all know what those two planets were in last evening’s night sky.

    I will now start into my story by telling you that yesterday, November 29th 2008 was the sixth anniversary of my Mother’s death. I think it was on the second anniversary – 2004 – when I was thinking of her and staring up at the twilight colours of the early evening sky and saw Venus winking and twinkling down at me. I smiled and imagined my Mother sending me her love.

    Then I saw a second star/planet appear behind it. This I saw it as my Grandmother’s love and all the generation before my mother. (I would like to add here that both my mother and I never knew my grandmother as she died prematurely when my mother was not quite three years old. How often I have yearned to have known her.) As my heart welled up with grief and gratitude I then looked over at my digital clock radio and saw the time go from 5:27 to 5:28. Another shiver went up and down my spine. 528 was my mother’s “lucky” number as it was the number of the house that she had lived in with her mother and where she had died.

    I was really overwhelmed with the synergy of it all yet there was another layer to unfold. As I soaked up the emotions of that incredible moment, I noticed the music that was playing on the stereo downstairs. Ron Sexsmith was singing “Least That I Can Do” and the lyrics wafted up and grabbed my heart and soul, especially these lines:

    ” With all the love you’ve given me, So perfect and True, To call your arms eternity, Is the least that i can do.” Can you imagine this perfect moment in my life. I still weep recalling it, to feel my Mother’s love and grandmother’s love radiate from the heavens to comfort me in my loss?
    A truly AWE-some moment.

    So then, last night as I was walking home with my son, lo and behold there appears the same alignment on her anniversary again and this time I got to take a photo as a keepsake!

    I feel very blessed indeed and again thank you Rachel for giving me all this wonderful information about my TNT moment……dynamite indeed.
    Spiritual dynamite even!!
    Venus and Jupiter – you “rock!”

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