There is a traffic jam of planets on the eastern horizon in the early morning right now and for the next several weeks, a prize for those of you who have to rise before dawn. Venus, Mercury, Jupiter, and Mars cluster close together on the eastern horizon, with Venus outshining all the others. Yesterday they were joined by a crescent Moon, and a photographer at the European Southern Observatory caught this fine view of the conjunction:
In the morning of May 1, 2011, about an hour before sunrise, five of our Solar System's eight planets and the Moon could be seen from the Paranal observatory in Chile. The four planets in the sky were Mercury, Venus, Mars and Jupiter, and they were joined by the crescent Moon to create this wonderful photo opportunity of a planetary conjunction. The bright crescent of the Moon is illuminated by the Sun (which is just below the horizon), while the darker part receives only light reflected from the surface of the Earth. Venus is the highest and brightest planet, with Mercury below and to the right. Jupiter is directly below Venus, but much closer to the horizon. Mars can be seen just below and to the left of Jupiter; their separation in the sky was less than half a degree. The fifth planet in the photograph is of course the Earth, providing our vantage point for this spectacular conjunction. Three of the ESO Very Large Telescope's 1.8-meter Auxiliary Telescopes (ATs) are silhouetted in the foreground. Just to the right of the leftmost AT is Cerro Armazones, site of the future European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT). Armazones is about 20 kilometers from Paranal. Between the ATs on the right is the distant volcano Llullaillaco, on the border of Chile and Argentina, 190 kilometers away.
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