Mercury Rises

I rode a rollercoaster of challenges this past weekend.  On the high side, my son and daughter-in-law drove up from North Texas for a visit.  On the down side, despite the worst drought in recorded history, cloud cover prevented me from observing the Perseid meteor shower Saturday night/Sunday morning and the occultation of Venus by the Moon Monday afternoon.  The Ides of August dawned clear this morning, the first time in nearly a week I’ve been able to see the morning planets and waning crescent moon shining brightly above the eastern horizon.

I only hit the snooze on my alarm once, because I stayed up too late with Dob and then decided to watch the latest episode of Warehouse 13 instead of going to bed like I should have.  My adventures in the backyard with the XT8 and the Intelliscope handheld computer device determined one of the sensors (probably the altitude one) is not reporting to the device as it should.  I’ll have to troubleshoot that situation Thursday evening.  I attempted to star hop from Deneb to the North American nebula, but seeing (visibility) proved too poor and I need more practice with the XT8 so I know which direction I’m going (what I see in the eyepiece v. what I see in the finderscope v. what I see on my star atlas).   

Before the alarm could buzz a second time, I got up, got dressed, grabbed my purse and left the house.  I drove the van a couple of blocks up the hill from my house to the dead end in front of City Hall, where I have a completely unobstructed view of the eastern horizon (I routinely see airplanes take off and land at KCI and can usually see the control tower as well).  I retrieved the camera and tripod from the back of the van and had it setup, with the normal lens attached, just shortly after 5:30 a.m.  I took a few wide field shots to capture all three planets and the moon. 

3 Planets 1 Dying Moon
3 Planets 1 Dying Moon ~ 15 Aug 2012 5:49 am Central

The above photo immediately took me back six months, when I went hunting for Mercury the first time. Last Febriary, I chased after a similar lineup of Jupiter, Venus, the new moon, and Mercury, during the evening hours, looking towards the west. Now, I’m on the flipside, for real.  Warm, instead of cold.  East, instead of west.  Dying moon, instead of newborn moon.  Mercury rising, not falling.

I love seeing Orion rising in the east.  To me, the Hunter heralds the approaching fall, my absolute favorite season of the year.  His two canine pals nipped at his heels (Canis Minor and Canis Major), illustrating we truly are in the ‘Dog Days’ of Summer

I took a few more shots of all three planets in one frame, then zoomed in on Mercury and the Moon, trying to capture that ellusive earthshine. 

Mercury and Waning Moon (click image for rest of album)
Mercury and Waning Moon (click image for rest of album)

I ended my photo shoot with several closeups of the waning moon, using my telephoto lens. I selected the best of the bunch to upload to Flickr and share here.

Waning Moon ~ 15 Aug 2012

Next up for me, astronomically, is hunting for Neptune, which reaches peak brightness (opposition from the sun with us in the middle) on August 24th. I will need to wait until close to midnight Friday to make my first foray, when the other blue planet should be visible from my backyard (between tall trees and houses) in the southern skies, swimming in the constellation Aquarius.