Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Plan Your Moon, Mars, Saturn Conjunction Photo August 30 & 31

Shooting the moon, Mars and Saturn over Bodie's 1937 Chevy at 9 pm, Saturday August 30, 2014
Last weekend offered the opportunity to shoot the crescent moon near Jupiter and Venus.  Now that the new moon has passed, as the crescent moon moves into the evening sky, we have the opportunity to catch the moon with Mars and Saturn on consecutive nights.  The first night will be August 30, when the moon will be roughly 11 degrees high at 9 pm (here at 38 degrees latitude) as the sky gets dark, near bright star Spica and west of the two planets.  The screen shot from +The Photographer's Ephemeris ("TPE", free on a PC) shows a possible composition shooting over the 1937 Chevy in Bodie State Historic Park.  The park closes after 6 pm, but we're bringing a group in for a night photography workshop, so the crescent moon and planet conjunction event is a nice bonus opportunity for us.

The even tighter and more interesting configuration will be on the following night August 31 when the moon joins Saturn and Mars to form a close triangle.  At 9 o'clock for mid-northern latitudes the moon will be southwest and roughly 17 degrees high, moving westward and setting over the next hour.

To plan some shots for this celestial event, you can use apps such as The Photographer's Ephemeris, +PhotoPills , StarWalk and Sky Safari+:
StarWalk Screen showing conjunction August 31
Here's a screen shot from the StarWalk app showing the relative positions of Mars, Saturn and the moon. (The appearance of them on the screen is not to scale.)  Using this app to see the relative position of the three objects, then using TPE or PhotoPills to pick natural landmarks on the horizon or man-made objects in your foreground to place them over, you can plan for some interesting compositions well in advance.  A wide shot to capture a foreground subject might work well at 14-24mm, while a telephoto composition might range from 50 mm to 200mm.  You can capture individual planets or the moon at longer focal lengths.  I may use my crop sensor Canon 70D to get an extra effective 1.6X magnification, so my 70-200 mm lens with 2X teleconverter shooting at 400 mm will produce an effective 640 mm.

Saturn over Mars (upper right)
You can scout potential locations for your shot all week, just look for the red light of Mars to the southwest as darkness falls, in the evening about an hour after sunset, and Saturn is the bright planet just to the right of Mars.  This is a location I scouted and ruled out earlier this week due in part to excessive light pollution just out of frame to the right.  Mars is the red planet in the upper right (and even easier to see in the reflection), while Saturn is just to the right.  The crescent moon between and above them will make a tight grouping, so I should bring my Canon 50 mm f/1.4 and 85 mm f/1.8 lenses to be able to use wider apertures and lower ISO settings for less noisy results.

A handy planning site for the Moon, Mars, Saturn conjunction event on August 31 tries to recognize your location to be able to give accurate times for visibility of Saturn in the evening, as well as set times for Saturn, the moon and Mars: http://in-the-sky.org/news.php?id=20140831_15_100