Jeff Duntemann's Contrapositive Diary Rotating Header Image

April 22nd, 2009:

The Moon Eats Venus

occultation500wide.jpgI had a tough time sleeping after 4:30 AM this morning, probably because I slept so well the previous night. (The Powers seem to ration my sleep for reasons I’ve never understood. Maybe if I got a complete night’s sleep every night I’d be unbearably perky, like that retro 60s babe Flo on the Progressive Insurance commercials.) So I finally gave up about 5:15 and got dressed. I went out on the back deck to see what I could see of the Moon and Venus, to find that the positioning was optimal bad vis-a-vis the huge pine tree behind the house. My eastern horizon is very good, where I have an eastern horizon–and alas, the Moon was rising right behind the tree.

However, by 6 AM the pair had cleared the tree, and were getting very close. I put my Canon G-10 on its greatest zoom, propped the camera on the deck railing, and took some shots. The sky was getting pretty light at that point and I knew I wouldn’t get much contrast, but there’s something a little subtle and spooky about what I did get, and I’m quite happy with the shot overall. When I knew that the occultation was only a few minutes off, I went back in and got Carol up. We both watched it from the deck, passing my 8 X 50s back and forth and marvelling at the terrific weather.

I haven’t seen a lot of planetary occultations, and there’s a fundamental difference between those of planets and stars: Stars are point sources of light. When a star goes behind the Moon, it blinks out instantly. Planets fade as their disks are covered by the Moon’s limb over a period of a few minutes. As I watched Venus dim, I realized that this was the first planetary occultation I’ve watched through binoculars. Every other occasion (I think maybe three) I was watching through one of my big scopes. I regret a little not having put the 8″ scope on the back deck last night, but experience has shown that the deck is not a very steady platform for observing. (And the driveway looks west, with the house blocking the eastern horizon completely.) There’s something to be said for brand-new experiences. Why always do everything the same way?