Venus, Jupiter and the Moon: watch and photograph a smiley face in the sky

November 29, 2008

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The “smiley face” in the western sky at 9 pm Eastern summer time to be seen from eastern Australia, on 1 December 2008, drawn by Nick Lomb

As reported by Richard Macey in this morning’s Sydney Morning Herald (29 November 2008) on Monday (1 December 2008) there will be a spectacular conjunction between the two planets Venus and Jupiter and the crescent Moon. Though the conjunction will be impressive from anywhere in the world, it will only smile on Australia and Australian longitudes almost in the form of a “smiley” emoticon. From the USA, for instance, the conjunction will be in the form of an upside down sad face.

I should emphasise that although the three brightest objects in night sky will appear to be bunched up close together in the sky that does not mean that they are actually close to each other. They are, in fact, just in the same line of sight. The Moon is the closest at about 400,000 km away from Earth. Venus is almost 400 times further away while Jupiter is almost six times further away. They are not close to each other at all.

If you can, try to photograph this event as photographing such bright objects provides an easy way into celestial photography. You will need a tripod and a digital camea with the ability to take a time exposure. Bracket your exposures by taking exposures for, say, 1, 2 and 3 seconds. It can be a little tricky to record the Moon with the correct crescent shape as it is so bright that it is usually overexposed. Turn off the flash as it does not help with distant objects unless you specifically want to record the foreground – a tree or a bush, for instance. When taking the image use the self-timer on the camera to trigger the shutter so that any vibrations have the time to dampen down.

If you take any good ones of the conjunction send low resolution versions to us here at Sydney Observatory – observatory-at-phm.gov.au (obviously replacing the symbol in the middle).

Let’s hope for clear skies for the event!

Addendum 1 December 2008: Two pictures from the previous evening. By tonight the Moon will have moved closer to the two “eyes” and will form the smiling mouth of the smiley.

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Venus, Jupiter and the Moon on 30 November 2008. Image by expert amateur astronomer and variable star observer Peter Williams

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An anonymously sent image of Venus, Jupiter and the Moon in the western sky on the evening of 30 November 2008. The planets and the Moon are streaked as it was a time exposure and everything in the sky moves once a day from east to west. But, what is the streak to the left of the Moon? My theory is that it was the landing lights of a plane approaching the camera and stopping abruptly at the end of the exposure. However, I am happy to listen to other suggestions.

Addendum 10 pm 1 December 2008. There are lots of frowns in Sydney as it has been cloudy. Here are three pictures from Colin who is 7 km west of Gunnedah, NSW to show what Sydneyites missed out on. Thanks Colin

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Addendum 3 December 2008. Here are a couple of extra images of this triple conjunction.

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The smiley face photographed from Sydney through cloud. Castle Hill at 8:30 pm on 1 December 2008 with Canon 300D, 70 – 300 lens, one second exposure at ISO 800. Photo Ken Petersen

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The day after the smiley (2 December 2008) an upside frown was visible from Australia. Still spectacular though. Image slightly shaky as the camera was hand-held on a railing and not placed on a tripod. Image Nick Lomb

Lots more images from around the world here and a wonderful sketch from Ireland here.

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74 responses to “Venus, Jupiter and the Moon: watch and photograph a smiley face in the sky

  • I am in Brisbane and get up early every morning to see Venus and Jupiter. It is also amazing that I have seen another celestial object close by to Jupiter each day. Is it a distant star ????

  • Hello Peter. I suspect that your red spot was an artifact from your camera. Maybe it was a tiny piece of dust on the detector or a fault in one of the five or ten million pixels of your camera – a fault that is not normally obvious. Or most likely, it was electronic noise that is amplified during the long night-time exposure, or at least much longer than the ones the camera uses during the day.

  • Yes this was a repeat, but I thought the site message was asking me to correct my text and I then I found a few typos. Not a good start!

    The previous one could be dumped. Either way, it would be nice to know more about the event, so I’ll see what comes up. Cheers,

    I was particlarly intriguied by this triple conjunction because this was the line-up in my birth chart in October 1934. I have Venus, Jupiter and moon in my tenth house of Libra.
    Perhaps it means something! time will tell.
    I saw the start of the line-up on my son’s 50th birthday, from Cape Ton in South Africa. Venus and jupiter were particularly bright on the evening of 23rd November over Clifton Beach,

    Unfortunately, from where I was last night (1st December) in Durban on the East coast of South Africa, one could not see anything other than banks of cloud and street lights.

    I read somewhere that this line-up occurs approximately every 40 years – well I turned 74 years and 54 days old on 1st December, It could mean the line-up occurs every 37 years and 27 days?

    I’d love to know more!

  • Hi Nick, I’m a farmer in the Snowy Mountains and had a great view last night and even took a few photos with my digital camera. Tonight while looking at one photo I noticed a red spot, almost horizontal to the lower planet and about 4 times the distance from the moon, when I zoom in I can see it is round in shape, it’s not Mars is it?

  • hi guys!

    nice that all of us have seen a spectacular sight yesterday. anyways. here is an explanation why some saw a frown and some(like me) saw a smiley face.

    Because the moon moved towards the planetary pair then between them, forming the face that beamed over Australia and regions sharing the same longitudinal boundaries. It then journeyed on to the top of the planetary “eyes”, producing a frown.

    “The further west people were at sunset, the sadder the face,”

  • I saw the almost smiley face from Centurion, Pretoria in South Africa, as I was driving last night to Santon. It was really dodgy, cause in the next 5min my friend Karin, who was in Klerksdorp, sent me an sms, “look at the moon”. It was truly amazing.

  • We really enjoyed the rare phenomena here in juba southern sudan, the skies were clear and we could see venus, the moon and jupiter in alignment, a wonderful sight to watch!

  • hi it was an amazing sight in the sky last night when venus jupiter and the moon were in the shape of a smiley face it it was extreamly clear in victoria.

  • Hey, am seeing this in South Africa – for us the moon is above the “eyes” so upside down smiley face here but so very beautiful…

  • Thanks for posting a great picture! It’s just past noon on Dec 1 here in Texas, United States. It’s great that you guys get it first — now I know what I’m looking for tonight! Except I understand ours will be an upside down ‘sad face’.

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