Moon and Venus make fine pairing in pre-dawn sky

The sky before dawn today offered a beautiful spectacle to early risers with a conjunction between the waning crescent Moon and planet Venus. And I was able to catch the attractive pairing over the sea from my home in south-east England.

A one-second exposure at ISO 1600 reveals the “dark side of the Moon” illuminated by Earthshine, with Venus in the same field of view. Image credit: Paul Sutherland

I must admit that I had not planned for the event. But when I woke early, with the sky still dark, and spotted the Moon and Venus shining brightly through my bedroom window, I rushed to grab my camera and set up a small telescope on my seaside balcony.

Amateur astronomers often record happenings in the heavens to help advance science, such as meteor activity, the changing brightness of a variable star, or the development of a comet’s tail. But this conjunction offered no useful new information – it was just a lovely moment to enjoy.

An exposure of 1/100th of a second at ISO 800 shows detail on the crescent Moon plus the crescent phase of Venus. Image credit: Paul Sutherland

I recorded the spectacle using my Canon EOS 600D camera and two of its lenses, the 18-55mm standard lens that it came with, and Canon’s 75-300mm zoom. I also attached the camera body to my latest telescope, an Altair Lightwave 66mm refractor that acts as a very fine 400mm telephoto lens.

In all cases, it was necessary to have the camera/lens combination mounted, because the hand would not be able to hold the instrument steady enough for the brief time exposures necessary. I used a standard photographic tripod with the camera lenses, and my old Vixen GP-DX mount for the Lightwave.

I was very happy with the results. With the camera’s standard kit lens, wide-angled views revealed another planet, Mars, too, though it is much fainter than Venus. My photos with the Lightwave show the quality of this small scope, and its potential as a portable travel instrument.

I took longer exposures that brought out the earthshine – the dark part of the Moon illuminated by sunlight reflected from the Earth. Venus – and the directly lit crescent of the Moon – appear overexposed in these shots. But I also took much shorter exposures to show the surface detail on the thin crescent of the Moon, and these shots also reveal how Venus is itself a small crescent at the moment.


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Mars can also be seen, to the left in this cropped picture, which is a one-second exposure at ISO 800 using the Canon’s standard lens. Image credit: Paul Sutherland