Misadventures & the Quirky Pair

Sometimes, night-time excursions do not always go the way one envisions them.

Case in point, the other evening the Moon and Venus were supposed to be a mere 5 degrees apart from each other. Considering that 10 x 50 binoculars will give you a 5-degree field of view, this event should make for an impressive view.

This should also have been an easy photo shoot as I would be able to frame both Venus and the Moon in the same picture. Being able to use enough magnification to record plenty of lunar detail and still resolve the crescent phase of Venus, as well, making for a very cool shot.

From my observing site at home, I have a pretty good field of view. However, I do not think that the Moon and Venus were any closer than 7 to 8 degrees apart, which was definitely not going to fit into the same field of view in my binoculars, let alone my camera.

I was trying to get that perfect shot of the two celestial objects together in the same picture frame, but it just was not meant to be. All things considered though, it was still an impressive sight, especially with occasional light cloud drifting by and being illuminated by moonlight.

In the following month we will have a few more opportunities to try this again. After all, there is always the occultations, with the Moon passing in front of the Pleiades Star Cluster, to practise my astrophotography skills on.

We have some interesting news on the dirty-snowball news front. Comet Lulin is now gracing our Yukon Night Skies. This comet is not really large or bright, but still makes an interesting object to follow across the night sky.

Comet Lulin was first discovered in China at the Lulin observatory on July 11, 2007. We have a perfect front-row seat for viewing this cosmic snowball in our night sky. At its brightest, Comet Lulin will be just visible to the unaided eye.

Comet Lulin will make an excellent binocular and small-telescope target.

This comet has no great and feathery tail as previous comet giants like Comet Hale-Bopp or Comet Hyakutake. In appearance, Comet Lulin will look more like the head of a small fuzzy Q-tip.

Currently, this comet can be found cruising through the constellation of Virgo and moves quickly into the constellation of Leo by Feb. 23.

Also found in this constellation is the planet Saturn. These two celestial oddballs make a quirky pair indeed, a ringed planet that has difficult rings to see and a comet that has a barely distinguishable tail.

Saturn and Comet Lulin are going to be quite close together on Feb. 23. A mere 2.5 degrees is all that will separate them from each other and, yes, this will make another awesome photo opportunity.

On Feb. 24, Comet Lulin will be closest to earth at a mere 61-million kilometres. From a dark observing sight and, with well-adapted night eyes, this comet should be visible to the unaided eye.

In the Yukon we do really have amazing dark skies that should be protected and cherished. Upon walking home one evening, I looked upward and was greeted by the most beautiful sight: Venus setting on the far horizon with the half moon high overhead.

To make this cosmic spectacle even more impressive was the Constellation of Orion resting high over the moonlit valley floor; and the brightest star in the sky, Sirius, floating majestically over the distant snow-covered mountain peaks.

Add to this a loose layer of light wispy cloud, occasionally drifting by, and it makes you take pause and reflect how lucky we really are up here.

To be able to enjoy fabulously dark night skies right on your front porch or in your backyard is truly a cosmic gift. City folks sometimes have to drive as much as two hours or more just to get to a half-decent observing site.

In the Yukon, you can see galaxies, nebulas and star clusters on your front porch, in small refractors and sometimes even with the unaided eye.

Thank you to all the people who sent an e-mail to [email protected] to express their interest in becoming involved with the March 13 and 14 Yukon Star Party. Keep them coming. And keep your fingers crossed for clear skies and moderate temperatures.

Above Whitehorse, Feb. 21, at midnight. Sky chart courtesy of www.heavens-above.com.

James “Deep Sky” Cackette can be reached at [email protected]. See his photo adventures on Facebook at Yukon Night Skies.

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