The Mercury-Jupiter conjunction at winter equinox 2018

a photo essay

by

Asger Mollerup

 

KEYWORDS: Winter solstice, full moon, Mercury-Jupiter conjunction, Venus, Orion, Antares, night-photography.

INTRO: The week around winter solstice 2018 offered several promising occasions for

 

night photography because the winter solstice coincided with a nearly full moon was and adorned with a Mercury-Jupiter conjunction rising on the eastern horizon. The days before equinox I stayed at the Mekong; the following days I shot from a location in the Phu Phan mountain chain a hundred km west of the mighty river.



 

Jupiter approaching Mercury
Sony RX10, manual mode, single shot,
ISO 1000, f5, 8 sec., focal length: 24 mm.

DATE: 19 December. ASTRO: The photo was taken at 05:25, during astronomical twilight, which started at 05:07 and ended when nautical twilight started at 05:34. The moon set at 02:42 and the sun rose at 06:24. The ‘blue hour’ started at 06:01 and ended with the beginning of the ‘golden hour’, 06:00. All times are local times: Universal Time + 7 h.

LOCATION: Central Nakhon Phanom in north-eastern Thailand next to the newly constructed water-sprouting giant Naga serpent on the bank of the Mekong river, which here is flanked by bicycle lanes shadowed by trees. On the opposite bank of the Mekong the much smaller and less illuminated Laotian city, Tha Khaek, is lining the horizon.

  North of Tha Khaek the ‘Indian Pier’, limestone mountains mirrored in the wide river have always attracted travelers, photographers and other life artists. A 19th century traveler heading for Vietnam had a weeks walk, if passing the old Nam Noi valley track in the Annamite mountains, before reaching Vietnamese area some 140 km ahead. Nowadays a Nakhon Phanom resident can visit mid-Vietnam in a long weekend trip, and when the railway to China once becomes a reality, a fast and more convenient route will be an option.
STORY: Jupiter and Mercury are seen rising together low on the horizon, like ascending from the river. The two planets have been approaching one another for weeks and Jupiter is now rising in the trail of Mercury, the faintest of the five planets visible by the naked eye.
 



 

Venus above Tha Khaek
Sony RX10, 2018-12-19 at 06.30, manual, single shot,
ISO 1000, f2.8, 2 sec., focal length: 24 mm.



 

Catching the sun
Sony RX10, 2018-12-19 at 06.00, manual, single shot,
ISO 400, f8.0, 1/120 sec., focal length: 200 mm.

 

 

Ascending from the pier
Sony RX10, 2018-12-19 at 05:28, manual, single shot,
ISO 1000, f2.8, 2 sec., focal length: 54 mm



 

Mercury and Jupiter the next morning
Sony RX10, 2018-12-20 at 05:28, manual, single shot,
ISO 1000, f2.8, 2 sec., focal length: 24 mm



 

The 3rd morning
Sony RX10, 2018-12-21 at 05:27, manual, single shot,
ISO 1000, f3.5, 2.5 sec., focal length: 24 mm

Last night before Jupiter reached the same altitude as Mercury, thus forming a conjunction.



 

As in heaven so in the river
Sony RX10, 2018-12-21 at 05:38, manual, single shot,
ISO 640, f4, 3.2 sec., focal length: 75 mm



 

Departing
Sony RX10, 2018-12-21 at 05:13, manual, single shot,
ISO 1000, f3.5, 2 sec., focal length: 73 mm

 
 

ABOVE: With serpents and humans on the bank of the Mekong fifteen minutes before sunrise. The tourists attached to their smart-phones did not notice the Naga’s interplay with Venus (above right), but did comment to

 

me when passing: suai, meaning ‘beautiful’ in Central Thai dialect, to which I politely confirmed ‘yes’ with some uncertainty about what exactly we referred to.
 

 
 
 

ABOVE: Sunrise at the Naga-fountain. The multi-headed serpent is highly revered among locals at the Mekong River. A famous event is taking place annually at Nong Khai opposite Vientiane during the full moon night in October at the end of the Buddhist lent. During the construction of the Friendship Bridge from Mukdahan to Savannakhet further south of Nakhon Phanom, a serious accident happened and was blamed on the Naga; the Japanese engineers had penetrated her nest in the riverbed and paid with their lives.

   The belief in magic power in the water is ancient among various Tai groups in SE-Asea. Tales of a pre-Buddhist water-creature, the ngueak, is still told by the elders. Various local Phuthai legends still refer to the ngueak, and the water creature is also present in local weavings and referred to as either ngueak or naga, the latter term being of Indian origin, the former Tai.

 

 
 

Mountains of adventure
Sony RX10, 2018-12-19 at 06.02, manual, single shot,
ISO 100, f8, 1 sec., focal length: 38 mm.

Sunrise at 06:25 
 

After having stayed three days on the riverfront, we left the Mekong wanting to be home in the Phu Phan mountains for solstice the 22nd, hoping to observe the coming Mercury-Jupiter conjunction rising above the Phu Sri Than National park/jungle (below), an area with limited light pollution.

 
 

Celestial play over Phu Moi
Sony RX10, 2018-12-22 at 5:10, manual, single shot,
ISO 1250, f3.5, 8 sec., focal length: 53 mm.

Winter solstice: 05:22:43, astronomical twilight: 05:11, sunrise: 06:28.

 

Mercury-Jupiter conjunction over Phu Moi.
Sony RX10, 2018-12-22 at 5:51 AM, manual, single shot,
ISO 400, f3.5, 1 sec., focal length: 29 mm. Cropped.
 

ASTRO: Altitude of Mercury (left): 11°24’. Angular separation: 0°50’24’’, which is equivalent to nearly two diameters of the moon or the sun. Astronomical twilight: 05:11, nautical twilight: moonset: 05:40, blue hour: 06:04, golden hour: 06:13, sunrise: 06:28. Winter solstice: 05:22:43. Full moon the following day right after midnight: 00:48:35. Local Thai and Lao calendar: 15th lunar day.
LOCATION
: Phu Loi in Khao Wong valley west of the Phu Sri Than National Park. The valley is located in the southern part of the Phu Phan Mountain chain, which cuts NE-Thailand into two geological areas. As the name

 

indicates then Khao Wong is surrounded by mountains. The valley borders national park area to the east and north; which creates some opportunities for finding photo spots with relative low light pollution from nearby cities and villages.
STORY
: Knowing that Mercury-Jupiter would rise from altitude zero at 04:58, coffee and camera was arranged on my terrace at 04:45. Mercury rose in the haze above the top of Phu Moi at 05:10, telling the altitude of the local horizon at this point: 1°55’, and soon got obscured in clouds for almost an hour.
 

 

 
 
ABOVE: My favorite software is Astronomic Clock, next comes Stellarium. A third travel companion is the all-round informative app Photo Pills, which was only used to check twilights and blue/golden hour; its force is Milky Way search.
BELOW
: My favorite - and most trusted - tools for determining cardinal directions and the equinoxes and solstices is my solar calendar. The term ‘sundial’ is misleading as the only time it indicates is solar noon or ‘high noon’, also called true Meridian. See more: LINK
 
 

ABOVE: The path of the shadow of the winter full-moon is marked by coins and runs close to the summer solstice path of the sun, marked by the curved line made 6 months ago. The 22nd of December the shadow of the sun followed the winter solstice line. It is full moon and the sun and the moon is opposite one another. The following night the moon shadow went slightly closer to

 

the summer solstice path of the sun and thereafter departed north.
EXIF: Sony RX10, 2018-12-23 at 04:15, manual, single shot, ISO 1600, f5, 8 sec., focal length: 24 mm.
The equinoctial Pointer is lit in moon-light, no LED.
Astro: The was full moon at 00:50, astronomical twilight started at 05:11, and the sun rose at 06:28.

 
 
 

Venus Gate
Sony RX10, 2018-12-23 at 04:02, manual, single shot,
ISO 1600, f5, 8 sec., focal length: 24 mm.

 
 

Moon rise
Sony RX10, 2018-12-23 at 18:26, manual, single shot,
ISO 3200, f2.8, 2 sec., focal length: 200 mm.

The moon rose at 18:20. Astronomical twilight started at 18:27
and ended at 18:54, when night-time started.

 
 

The Moon and Orion
Sony RX10, 2018-12-23 at 18:38, manual, single shot,
ISO 640, f2.8, 8 sec., focal length: 24 mm.
The moon rose at 18:20. Astronomical twilight started at 18:27
and ended at 18:54, when night-time started.

 
 

Jupiter above Mercury
Sony RX10, 2018-12-23 at 05:37, manual, single shot,
ISO 1600, f2.8, 2 sec., focal length: 79 mm.

Astronomical twilight: 05:11 - 05:38, the sun rose at 06:28.
The third illuminating object is Antares.
 

 

Jupiter and Mercury departing
Sony RX10, 2018-12-24 at 05:34, manual, single shot,
ISO 1250, f2.8, 2 sec., focal length: 44 mm.

 

 

Star Gate
Sony RX10, 2018-12-24 at 05:23, manual, single shot,
ISO 1000, f2.8, 3.2 sec., focal length: 24 mm.

 

 

Heading north-east
Sony RX10, 2018-12-24 at 05:45, manual, single shot,
ISO 1000, f2.8, 4 sec., focal length: 24 mm.

Sunrise: 06:29. The white line marks the morning plane heading north-east for Vietnam.

 
 

Dawn
EXIF
: Sony RX10, 2018-12-23 at 05:45, manual, single shot,
ISO 80, f5.6, 1/20 sec., focal length: 200 mm.

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© Asger Mollerup

macsida@thai-isan-lao.com

1 January 2019

Photography.Thai-Isan-Lao.com