About every 40 years the five "naked eye planets" are together in the evening sky. 2002 is such a year, as shown by the following photo groups (most-recent at top).
Only Mercury is missing from this picture of 4 of the 5 naked eye planets. The 2-day old crescent moon is overexposed, and merely "looks like" a full moon. A couple stars are labeled. On the horizon, 39 miles away, is Vandenberg Air Force Base (VBG). [Nikon Coolpix 990 digital camera, 4-sec exposure with dark frame subtraction, f/2.7, ISO 200, Figueroa Mountain, 4528 feet ASL, 45 miles northwest of Santa Barbara, CA]
CLose-up of moon and Venus (lower-right). The sunlit crescent portionof the moon is ocverexposed in order to show the dark side which is lit by "earthshine."
On May 13, shortly after sunset, this view shows all naked eye planets plus the moon as seen from a mountain site north of Santa Barbara, 3600 feet ASL. [May 13, 8:56 PM, PDST, Nikon Coolpix 990, f/8.2, 4-sec exposure, ISO 200, dark frame subtraction]
Zooming in by a factor 2.7, and one minute later, this picture shows Mercury more clearly. Also, notice that the "dark" part of the moon is "lit" by light reflected back to the moon from the Earth (the Pacific Ocean region, for this geometry). The lighting is so good for this iamge that you can make out maria (dark) and highlands (lighter) on the dark region. Even naked eye observer's can see the dark side faintly lit at this phase (1-day old).
Two days later both Mercury and the comet have moved, so that now the comet is to the lower-left of Mercury, as this zoomed image shows. The comet still has a "double tail." Mercury and the comet are 1.5 degrees apart. The field of view is 5.2 x 5.5 degrees, north is up, and the faintest stars are magnitude 9. These pictures were takenwhen the comet was 5 degrees above the horizon. [SBIG ST-8E CCD, Nikon telephoto lens, 35 mm EFL, f/5.6, avergae of five 30-second exposures, mountain site 3400 ASL north of Santa Barbara, CA, 2002 May 4, 9:00 PM PDST]
The next night, from my residence in Santa Barbara.
Three days later Mercury has moved higher in the evening sky, closer to Venus. [Nikon Coolpix 990, ISO 200, f/2.7, 4 sec exposure, 2002 May 2, 8:40 PM PDST, Mountain site 3400 ASL north of Santa Barbara]
Later the same evening a sensitive astrophoto CCD was used to obtain this black-and-white picture. To Mercury's right is a comet (Utsunomiya, C/2002F1), 1.3 astronomical units away at magnitude 6.2. The comet has a "double tail," one composed of dust and the other gas. Just above the horizon is an open cluster of stars called the Pleides (sometimes mistakenly identified as the "Little Dipper"). North is to the upper-right. Mercury and Venus are 11degrees apart; Venus, Mars and Saturn are within a 7 degree circle. [SBIG ST-8E CCD, Nikon telephoto lens, 35 mm EFL, f/3.5, avergae of three 60-second exposures, mountain site 3400 ASL north of Santa Barbara, CA, 2002 May 2, 9:06 PM PDST]
The "big planetary alignment of 2002" looked like this on April 29, 2002. Notice the constellation Orion oabove the left horizon. [Nikon Coolpix 990 digital camera, 8-sec exp w/ dark subtracted; Santa Barbara, CA]
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This site opened: May 3, 2002. Last Update: September 11, 2002