Venus kisses Jupiter: an exceptional planetary conjunction (27 Aug. 2016)
It happened, at last. Venus and Jupiter put on an epic show at sunset, with the closest conjunction we will see for several decades to come. Next kiss will be in 2065.
In the realm of the sky, planets are continuously moving against the stars. After all, this is why we call them “planets”, from the ancient Greek ἀστήρ πλανήτης astēr planētēs, or πλάνης ἀστήρ plánēs astēr, which means “wandering star“. From time to time, they apparently meet in the sky, making what we call a “conjunction”. Of course, it is only matter of perspective: while apparently close in the sky, planets are very far away each other.
Surely, conjunctions involving Venus and Jupiter are the most spectacular ones. Venus is the brightest object in the sky, after the Sun and the Moon, with Jupiter coming immediately after: having them very close in the sky is always a memorable sight. A Venus Jupiter conjunction is not a rare event, if we do not consider the angular separation. For example, one of these wonderful events happened on June 2015.
But the 27 Aug. 2016 conjunction had something unique: Venus and Jupiter were coming as close as 4 arcminutes, that is 1/8th of the angular size of the lunar disk. At Virtual Telescope we planned observations of this exceptional event well in advance, even if from Italy we could see the planets as close as 11 arcminutes or so.
Finally, the day arrived. As this event happened with the planets low in the western sky at sunset, it was mandatory to have a clear horizon. I selected a place in Rome I know very well, on the top of the legendary Capitoline Hill. The magnificent square and buildings there, designed by Michelangelo, make the visit worthwhile every time.
I was there 90 minutes earlier. I decided to bring with me some advanced equipment, to be ready to capture everything. I had two Canon 7D mark II DSLR cameras, equipped with Canon 70-200mm -f/2.8 and 17-55 mm – f/2.8 lenses, respectively. I also had two sturdy tripods and several further accessories, including a pair of binoculars. Quite a lot of stuff to bring on my shoulders, as you can see above!
Once there, I managed to have everything ready. While I’m very used to do these things, something wrong can always happen and you can miss something unique if you do a silly error because you are short in time. Experience, here, does not mean you can take it easily, but that you must take it seriously.
In 30 minutes, I had everything ready and decided to capture an image of the setup, as the background is one of the most beautiful sights you can have in Rome.
As it was a unique opportunity, I did an observing check the evening before, from Southern Rome. I could easily see both Venus and Jupiter at first sight, by naked eye. I also captured the image below.
Back to the “Big Evening”, soon after the sunset, I started scanning the western horizon with my binoculars and I immediately located Venus. A few seconds later, even Jupiter was obvious with the instrument. At this point, I was able to point both my DSLRs to the right place and started acquiring frames. Some minutes later, I was able to see both planets by naked eye, easily. How wonderful!
While I was working there, a just-married couple arrived, taking some pictures in such a beautiful set. They were from Russia. At some point, they asked me what I was doing with all that stuff. I showed them the conjunction and they were so happy that they wanted a picture with me as part of their album. You must be always ready to do Astronomy outreach!
Thanks to my setup, I was also able to capture some close-ups, keeping evidence of the beautiful skyline. I have found just perfect to run two different cameras at the same time, this is why I have several DSLR bodies, because in these cases you cannot change lenses without loosing something.
Once the planetary lovers, after their kiss, left the scenery, I started packing my equipment. Meantime, the darkness made the landscape so elegant that I wanted to capture a final shot, to bring the emotion with me.
It was over, this time. Venus and Jupiter will kiss again this way in 2065. Take note.
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