The Moon and Venus, a gorgeous pair

By Phil Plait | November 26, 2011 6:42 pm

Just an hour or so ago as I write this (Saturday, November 26, 2011) I was sitting at my desk at home, puttering around on the computer. I glanced out my office window and noticed the Sun had set a few minutes before. Even though it was still quite bright out, I thought I might be able to spot Venus low in the west. So I leaned back and looked out the window. Venus was easy enough to spot — it’s really quite bright — but to my surprise and delight a very thin crescent Moon was hanging right next to it!

I did two things right away: I tweeted about it, so others could go outside and see the pair if they could, and then I grabbed my camera and went outside. I took literally 111 pictures, and put the best of them on Flickr. Check this one out!

[Click to embiggen.]

This was one of the first of the set I took; the sky was still quite bright. You can see the very young Moon on the right, and Venus way over on the left. I measured the distance off the picture, and they were about 3° apart, or about 6 times the width of the Moon’s face. That’s pretty close!

I kept snapping away as the sky darkened, and moved around a bit to get a more interesting foreground. I like the way this one came out:

You can see some nearby trees for context, as well as one of the Boulder foothills. If you click through to the higher-resolution version on Flickr, you’ll see the faint outline of the dark portion of the Moon; that’s called Earthshine, because it’s light from the Earth illuminating the Moon!

[Edited to add: there were a few more shots I decided to add after I posted this, including this dramatic one of the Moon behind some tree branches; you can really see the Earthshine here!]

Go ahead and take a look at the others I put on Flickr. Mind you, I took these with a small digital camera, a Canon Powershot SX110 IS. It’s not terribly fancy, but it has a manual mode which helped get the exposures and apertures settings the way I wanted them. I’ve had it a while now and there are a couple of bad pixels I had to clone out (they stood out as a white and red spot in the dark sky; normally you’d never notice them) but that’s all the processing I did.

In other words, it’s not terribly hard to get great shots of the sky, even when you’re relatively unprepared for a gorgeous scene. In this case, I knew enough to look outside, but hey! Now you do too. Get snapping!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff, Pretty pictures
MORE ABOUT: Boulder, Moon, Venus

Comments (18)

  1. Stephen

    I saw this pair as I was flying home today. What a thrill to have a front-row seat!

  2. Kevin

    Very nice images Phil. If it wasn’t raining here, I would have been out shooting this as well. I was even hoping to get Mercury, which was tot he lower right of the Moon.

    I’ve got Moon/Venus shots before, but you can never have too many. :)

  3. I saw them while I was walking our dog, Jato. It was partly cloudy, though. I first just saw the Moon, then later as the gap in the clouds moved I saw Venus, but the Moon was gone. I wasn’t sure how close they were… Nice!

  4. I took some pics with higher resolution camera and could see the phase of Venus. Venus is lit on the right side (like the Moon) but well over half lit, as opposed to the crescent Moon. You might expect them to have the same phase since they are next to each other in the sky. However, Venus is on the far side of the Sun (more than 90 degrees) behind Earth in its orbit and the Moon is currently kind of between the Earth and the Sun (no directly between…that would be a new Moon). Venus was full when it was at superior conjunction and its phase is now shrinking whereas the Moon was new when it was between the Sun and Earth an its phase is waxing.

    In your last picture, you can just make out the phase of Venus. Look closely! Your camera has a 10x zoom which is enough to see the phases if you get the exposure right.

  5. Tracy

    Thanks, Phil! Awesome shots! Your tweets motivated me to dust off my telescope. In addition to Venus and slivery moon, we got to see Jupiter and at least four of its moons. There may have been five, but I’m not ready to commit to the one speck as being a moon. If only there were somebody around who knows a bit about astronomy…

  6. Ian S

    Hey Phil, you got mercury as well… In the second picture on flickr, just above the branches, dead centre above the right hand chimney…

    I’ve spent the last month tracking the conjunction between mercury and venus, last month all three were within about 2 degrees and clearly visible.

  7. Len

    I don’t think that’s Mercury, the angular separation isn’t great enough. Last night, Mercury was 8° away from the Moon, while Venus was only about 3.5° away (at least, that’s what Starry Night tells me for Boulder at sunset…). More likely it’s a bad pixel.

    Anyway, these are very nice pics! I was just talking about Earthshine in my Grade 9 Science class on Friday, we’ll have to continue the conversation this week.

  8. Jason

    I was able to get the is sometime back when Venus and the moon were near each other in the sky one morning. 300mm handheld shot, braced on the hood of the car.

  9. KC

    If you missed this last night – you can catch the Moon & Venus again tonight (Sunday night). Venus will be below and right of the Moon.

  10. I have taken some shot today from Hyderabad India 6PM Local Time.
    With Sony Cybershot HX9V Digicam , Manual Mode
    Some with HDR SCN mode and some with ISO 800 and 1/20 s exposure

  11. Years ago, when I worked the graveyard, I loved trying to see how close to new Moon I could still see the crescent. If memory serves, my person best was about 28 hours before new one morning back in ’07.

  12. Mikerbob

    Phil – saw this at about the exact time and place as you (coming down S. Boulder Rd. from the top of the mesa)… Very cool.

  13. Ragutis

    Nice shots, Phil. The scene caught my eye yesterday evening on the way to buy lights and decorations. I ended up just standing in the Lowes parking lot for 10 minutes or so looking West.

  14. Yuri

    Saw this last night while driving – nice pic, but the view from Adelaide was awesomer (purple cloudbank from the horizon to about 5 degrees up, stunning sunset colours behind it). Was cursing my lack of camera :(

  15. Grand Lunar

    Good ones, Phil!

    Makes me wish I had the means for sky photography. Oh well.

    On the other hand, I did manage to spot a couple of bright meteors lately, so that makes up for it. A little….

  16. Kimberly Faires

    Hello. I am really struggling here in San Francisco (8:43pm Mon. Nov 28th, 2011) and I would relish some help from someone. Every evening, very shortly after sunset, as I am looking at the Pacific Ocean from San Francisco, I have noticed (only this month) an incredibly bright, almost fire-like, planet (I think) that is very, very close to the horizon to the left of, or south of, the setting sun. I watch it as it appears to rise into the sky and then it is gone….or at least I am unable to discern it from other stars…..all of this occurring within the first hour or so after the sun sets. I took some incredible pictures with my digital camera tonight and I don’t know what planet I am seeing. There is so much misinformation on the web in regard to astronomy and much that is overtly conflicting. I know of no one whom can assist me and I happened upon your website. I am happy to share my photo(s) with you if you are interested….and I hope that you are. Thank you, in advance, for your time and help.

  17. Missy

    I noticed this on the 26th as well as I was walking toward the bus stop! I tried to get a picture but between it being a phone camera (8MP or not it’s still a phone camera trying to take a picture of the sky) and it being just over the Jack in the Box sign I couldn’t get a good one. Thanks for posting these!! I have a feeling I have found a couple new phone wallpapers 😀

  18. Kimberly… that is the planet Venus, the same one Phil is talking about here. :-)

    A reliable place for Astronomy info and what is in the sky is:
    Enter your location and then go down to the Whole Sky Chart in the Astronomy section.

    Don’t let the name fool you, it is for serious sky observing, start, planets, and satellites.


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