New Year's dawn vista

Early-rising stargazers across Otago will be rewarded by the sight of a beautiful gathering before dawn tomorrow, when the waxing crescent moon, Venus and Jupiter will all be visible in the same part of the sky, writes Ian Griffin.

Ian Griffin
Ian Griffin

The best views will be at around 4.30am, before light from the rising sun brightens the sky and washes out the scene.

Venus is the first of the trio to rise, clearing the horizon just after 3.15am. Half an hour later it will be followed by the waxing crescent moon, which will be a thin sliver just over 10% illuminated. A few minutes later, Jupiter will slowly ascend above the skyline, completing the magnificent celestial triangle just before 5am.

Once the moon is a few degrees above the horizon, ghostly earthshine will allow you to spot the portion of the moon that's not directly illuminated by the sun. Earthshine is the name given by astronomers to sunlight which reaches your eyes after reflection off the earth and the moon.

I have to confess that waning crescent moons are amongst my all-time favourite astronomical photographic subjects. This is because the contrast between the sunlit crescent, the part of the moon lit by earthshine and the constantly changing colour of the background sky with the approach of dawn offers an ever-changing vista.

Although Venus, the moon and Jupiter all appear close together in the sky, in the early hours of tomorrow morning they will actually be in three separate constellations. Venus is in Libra (the scales), the moon is in Scorpius (the Scorpion) while Jupiter is in the constellation Ophiuchus (the serpent-bearer), one of the several constellations of the Zodiac which you won't ever hear about from the astrologer who writes the column to the right of this article. But I digress.

If you want to photograph this event, I'd suggest that a tripod is essential to support your camera. If you are using a DSLR, any lens shorter than 100mm focal length should be able to frame Venus, the moon and Jupiter.

I'd love to see any photographs you obtain.


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