Moon, Venus and Jupiter Conjunction - March 2012
Submitted: Tuesday, 6th March 2012 by Mike Salway
In the month of March 2012, the early evening provides some fantastic viewing and photographic opportunities in the Western dusk sky.
Early in the Month, the planets Venus and Jupiter converge closer to each other each day, until they are at their closest around the 15th March when they'll be separated by around 3 degrees.
After March 15th, they begin to diverge slowly but are joined by the thin Crescent Moon on March 25th, 26th and 27th - forming a great trio of celestial objects to view.
We had a similar conjunction of the Moon, Venus and Jupiter in the Western Sky back in December 2008 - the "Smiley Face Conjunction". Who could forget that!? This conjunction won't be in the 'shape' of a smiley face but it'll still be great to see.
Read on below for Sky Charts of the month of March, as well as more information about what a conjunction is, and how to photograph them!
Use the links below to jump quickly to the section you're interested in.
What is a Conjunction?
A conjunction is an alignment of 2 or more celestial bodies (usually the moon and planets) in the sky, from our vantage point on Earth. The objects aren't necessarily physically close to each other in space, but from where we see them, when the bodies are grouped close together on the sky we call them in conjunction.
When the objects get so close together that one passes in front of the other from our vantage point, we call that an occultation.
A conjunction doesn't have any particularly special meaning, but they can be interesting to observe because very close conjunctions are quite rare events. It can be very exciting to see two planets in the same field of view of your telescope!
Not only that, but conjunctions, especially with the moon and/or bright planets are involved, are just a lovely spectacle to look at and photograph. Who could forget the beautiful Smiley Face Conjunction of 1st December, 2008? Or the Moon and 3 planets conjunction on Feb 23, 2009? Or the Moon and 4 Planets Conjunctions in May 2012?
Where and How Can I See Them?
This month of conjunctions can be seen in the dusk / early evening sky after Sunset in the West, and are best observed from around 30-60 minutes after dusk local time. They will be able to be seen until they set below the horizon.
All you need is a pair of eyes and a good unobstructed Westerly aspect. If you have trees or houses to the West, head to the nearest beach, lake or park to see the conjunction and watch the sunset as well.
Sky Chart - 6th and 9th of March: Venus and Jupiter
Early in the Month, Venus and Jupiter are on their way, headed closer toward each other each night.
For those with keen eyes and a very good Westerly horizon, Mercury can also be seen very close to the horizon.
See the Sky Charts below for the view on the 6th and 9th March. They simulate the view from approx 7:30pm local time AEDST in mid-southern (Sydney) latitudes.
Sky Chart - 12th and 15th March: Venus and Jupiter
Heading closer still on the 12th March, until they appear at their closest on the 15th March, separated by approximately 3 degrees.
See the Sky Charts below for the view on the 12th and 15th March. They simulate the view from approx 7:30pm local time AEDST in mid-southern (Sydney) latitudes.
Sky Chart - 15th March: Venus, Jupiter and Pleiades
The Pleiades (M45) star cluster is visible for the whole month and doesn't have to be viewed just on this date - in fact, it will be even better towards the end of the Month when the thin crescent Moon joins the show.
This sky chart is for the 15th March again, but later (8pm AEDST) in the evening when the sky is darker in order to be able to view the Pleiades.
Sky Chart - 25th-27th March: Crescent Moon, Venus and Jupiter
Now it starts getting really beautiful, with the crescent Moon joining Venus and Jupiter - first on the 25th below and left of Jupiter, then between the two planets on the 26th, and then above and to the right of Venus on the 27th.
See the Sky Chart below for the view on the 25th, 26th and 27th March. It simulates the view from approx 7:00pm local time AEDST in mid-southern (Sydney) latitudes.
How Can I Photograph Them?
Photographing these conjunctions is generally quite easy, and most cameras, even the compacts, will do a reasonable job of it however you'll get better results with the cameras that allow you to adjust the settings manually to capture a longer exposure.
In general, you'll need an exposure of around 1 to 8 seconds, so the tripod is a must. Of course with digital, it's very easy to preview your shot afterwards and adjust accordingly - so take lots of shots of varying exposures until the scene is well lit (not underexposed) but not overexposed in your preview screen.
It's easy to take pictures from home with powerlines or rooftops in the view, but the most pleasing shots will be the ones where you make an effort to get to a spot with a nice scenic foreground to compose with the conjunction in the sky. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to arrive at your location, find the best spot and set up your tripod and camera.
The conjunction isn't over in an instant so you have time to recompose, try different settings etc, but remember that the dusk light can change very rapidly so it might help to go out a day or two before to find the best location and take some practise shots in similar conditions at a similar time of day.
References, Further Reading and Resources