A sharp crescent Moon, Venus and Mercury are hanging above the Roman Castles, as seen from Gianicolo, in Rome. 6 Feb. 2016
All images are © by Gianluca Masi. Do not use without permission.
These mornings, as you know, there is a stunning show up in the sky: all the five, naked-eye planets are visible at a glance. Add the Moon and the Earth on the foreground and you will have enough reasons to wake up earlier than the Sun to admire them in person.
At Virtual Telescope we managed to grab them a couple of mornings, but on 6 Feb. we wanted to go out early once again: that morning a very sharp crescent Moon was expected in close conjunction with Venus and Mercury, within five degrees, just above the horizon. These are very spectacular events, as the Moon, not far from ending its monthly cycle, shows an amazing Earthshine, for a truly unforgettable vision.
I decided to reach the “Gianicolo” (Janiculum) hill in Rome, as I was sure the sight could be great. Once on the way to my site, I noticed there were lots of clouds all around, so a not promising scenery. Once at Gianicolo, I quickly made my setup ready. This time, I had with me both by Canon 7D mark II bodies, equipped with a Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM and the venerable Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS II USM: this way, I could go without swapping the optics, saving a lot of time.
At the beginning, as I said, there were just a few hopes, the clouds were sitting in the very same direction where I had to see for the show.
The imaging setup is ready, but clouds are too.
Luckily, some cold wind was blowing and clouds were soon gone, with the Moon finally promising an unforgettable vision through my 200mm-f/2.8 lens.
The Moon is finally leaving the clouds and shows its elegant Earthshine
In a few minutes, all the three objects, Venus, Mercury and the Moon, were visible and I captured them with the 70mm-f/2.8:
The crescent Moon, Venus and Mercury are finally showing
At this point, I started swapping the cameras, to get even a larger field of view, as with the 55mm-f/2.8 lens which provided a perfect framing of the scene.
The Moon, Venus and Mercury as seen in a larger field of view
Time flies when you are having fun: the sky was brightening fast, providing a continuously evolving (and very beautiful) light. Of course, I did not miss the sight with my very own eyes: while I love imaging these cosmic treasures, I really like to see them in the “ancient” way. Sometimes, I have to be careful to come back from that vision and continue taking images! So, I went back to the 70mm lens.
While the sky gets brighter, the view is continuously new and rewarding.
Soon, it was time to leave. I managed to capture another view with the 55mm lens, with the city of Frascati and the beautiful Roman Castles just below the starry event.
A final capture before to leave the observing site. The elegance of the sky at dawn is always breathtaking
Oh, I could not resist and used my 70-200 zoom at its 200mm focal length for the next image, taking the Moon, Venus… and an airplane, too!
A close-up with the Moon, Venus and an airplane
Well, it was not finished. While driving back to home, I crossed the Tevere river on its “Ponte Mazzini” (“Mazzini Bridge”) and looking SE I spotted the Moon and Venus above the water. I stopped my car, grabbed my camera and went to the side of the bridge facing them, capturing another image, this time saying good bye to the sky.
The Moon and Venus are shining at dawn above the colorful waters of the Tevere river, in Rome
Needless to say, I’m already looking forward to the next cosmic delight.
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As you gaze at the first-quarter moon this week, you may wonder when the last-quarter moon will occur this month. But there won't be one, if you live in North or South America.
Take the situation in eastern North America, which is in the Eastern Standard Time (EST) zone. The previous last-quarter moon was on Jan. 31 at 10:28 p.m. EST, and the next one will be on March 1 at 6:11 p.m.
The mathematics behind this is that the average synodic lunar month — from new moon to new moon — is 29.53 days long, while February is either 28 or 29 days long. So it is possible, even in a leap year like 2016, to have one of the four main lunar phases fall outside the calendar month of February. [Earth's Moon Phases, Monthly Lunar Cycles (Infographic)]
Other parts of the world, such as Europe, had a last-quarter moon this month early on the morning of Feb. 1.
We make a big fuss about the "Blue Moon," when there are two full moons in a month, but we don’t seem to notice when one of the lunar phases goes missing.
This raises the question of why our months vary so much in their number of days: 28 or 29 in February, 30 in April, June, September and November, and 31 in the other seven months. The problem is that the sun, moon and Earth don’t move to the tune of simple arithmetic.
The lunar month consists of 29.530589 days, and the tropical year (equinox to equinox) is 365.242190 days long. When the ancient astronomers attempted to construct a calendar with these bizarre numbers, they found that, literally, it did not compute.
Early astronomers divided the shape of a circle into 360 degrees. This seems like a strange number to us with our decimal system, but it made sense with a number system based on 12. It also came close to the number of days in a year, though not close enough. The year was divided into 12 months (a natural in a base-12 number system) of 30 days each — but that left the awkward 5-and-a-bit-days remaining.
Mathematicians struggled with this problem for thousands of years, until finally a papal commission in 1582 came up with a complex but elegant solution, known as the Gregorian calendar, after Pope Gregory XIII, who commissioned it.
In order to get the church’s feast days back in phase with the astronomical calendar, it was necessary to omit 11 days.
The Pope had the power to enforce the new calendar in Catholic countries, though there was a bit of grumbling about the 11 days, which went missing between Oct. 4 and Oct. 15, 1582. Just for fun, try entering Oct. 4, 1582, in a planetarium program like Starry Night, and then advance to the next day. You will find it is Oct. 15.
Naturally, England (along with its North American colonies) was one of the strongholds of the old Julian calendar, and resisted adopting the popish Gregorian calendar until 1752. By that time, the calendar used by the English was off by 12 days, so that Sept. 2, 1752, was followed by Sept. 14, 1752, in England and its colonies.
To avoid the missing-days problem, we now have a system of 30- and 31-day months, with poor February being stuck with making the whole thing fit. Thus, we have 29 days in February every four years, with a few exceptions to fine-tune the length of the year over the centuries. The result is that most months are a little longer than the lunar month, so they sometimes have two full moons (or other double phases). And February sometimes ends up missing a phase, as happens this year.
Editor's note: If you capture a stunning view of the moon or any other celestial sight and would like to share it with us and our news partners, you can send in images and comments to managing editor Tariq Malik at: email@example.com.
This article was provided to Space.com by Simulation Curriculum, the leader in space science curriculum solutions and the makers of Starry Night and SkySafari. Follow Starry Night on Twitter @StarryNightEdu. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. Original article on Space.com.