Mercury and Venus tonight

An amazing thing happened tonight. After days, indeed almost a week, of clouds hanging over either the entire sky or just the bit on the horizon, they parted and provided a crystal clear night. Admittedly, they did so after the auroral events of last night were over, and well past the time when Venus and Mercury were at their closest, but the two inner planets remained close enough for a good bit of viewing. Not just in Kendal but all over if twitter is anything to go by (@NewburyAS tweeted loads of photos sent in by followers).

At around quarter past eight, I wheeled my telescope bag over a host of golden daffodils to view the most interesting sight of spring from Bowling Fell. Accompanied only by teenagers who left as soon as it got cold and a couple of dog walkers and photographers higher up, I looked to the West and after a moment or two spotted Venus through the bright sunset. If Venus was hard to spot, there was no chance yet of Mercury, so I took a few shots to see if the camera was better than the eye before turning to other matters.

I unpacked the Celestron 130SLT telescope and set it up. Turned the eyepiece onto Venus and slotted in the 25, 9 and then 4mm eyepieces to view the thick gibbous planet. I spun the telescope to the north using the azimuth control with the 25mm eyepiece in it and came swiftly to rest on tiny Mercury. As with the last time I observed the planet, it was just a pinprick in the 25mm eyepiece, but showed something closer to a phase when the 9 and then 4mm eyepieces were trained on it.

I took a few more shots, including some with the telescope in view, and took a few more looks at the planets until the town hall clock began to ring out nine o’clock. At this point, the planets were too low for my observing area, so I went to the steps that showed me a view over the town and a look to the north. I couldn’t see anything auroral happening, but I did see the rising of something orange and familiar. Yes, before you write in to report strange lights over Kendal or a UFO that definitely isn’t a Chinese Lantern – actually, it was. The picture, when zoomed into fully, shows the familiar shape. The zoomed out picture shows the orange blob that keeps getting reported (even at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s eve). The thing even flew over Stuart Atkinson, who was observing from Kendal Castle.

Then I packed everything away and wheeled back over the host of by now less golden daffodils and home in time for tea. In the sky as well as the vanishing forms of Mercury and Venus, Mars was close to overhead and Saturn was rising in the south east. Though I’ll have to catch that BBC4 program on Dame Jocelyn Bell-Burnell (Beautiful Minds) on BBC iPlayer at a later date. More photos can be seen on my flickr account.

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