Friday, December 26, 2008

Planetary Parade Coming

Yesterday evening, Sandra and I were stuffing ourselves at the Christmas Buffet at the Divi Flamingo hotel. This sumptuous buffet is fast becoming a tradition for us here on Bonaire.

We watched the evening sky darken as we sat there at our waterside table. Venus was high in the sky and very bright. Jupiter was lower and quite bright, and then... yes there was Mercury below Jupiter.

I was surprised how far Mercury was from Jupiter because those two planets are going to be putting on quite a show, beginning Sunday evening. On Dec. 28th, Jupiter and Mercury will be much closer together, and a teeny tiny moon sliver will be below them. On the 29th, the moon sliver will be to Mercury and Jupiter's upper left.

THEN, on the evening of the 31st, when everyone on Bonaire will be outside shooting off fireworks, Jupiter and Mercury will be at their closest point, and the Moon will be stationed right by Venus.

Any of these groupings would be great to see, and I'll attempt to photograph them as well. We're sure hoping for clear skies on the 28th and 31st.

I fired up my ancient astronomy charting software, Skyglobe, today and checked out what we had seen last night. I learned that 22 minutes after sunset on Christmas night, Mercury was 11 degrees above the horizon, Jupiter 17.5, and Venus 40.

On the 28th, when the Moon joins the picture, at 22 min. after sunset:
the Moon will be 9.4 degrees up, Mercury 12.7, Jupiter 15.8, and Venus will be 40.5 degrees up.

By way of comparison, for those brave enough to be outside 22 min. after sunset in northern New Jersey:
the Moon will be 6 degrees above the horizon, Mercury 8.7, Jupiter 12.1 and Venus 29.3. So spotting the Moon and planet grouping could prove to be more of a challenge up North than it will be for us in the Tropics.

But if I were up there in the frozen North, I'd still pop outside on the evenings of the 28th, 29th, and 31st, just to see what I could see.
You can see nice illustrations of what the planet and moon groupings will look like online here.

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