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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Our Moon, Jupiter and Stellarium

There was a lot of talk last night on social media about an interesting phenomenon – the Moon and Jupiter being so close together you could have been forgiven for thinking that the Moon had its very own moon.

   It wasn't a perfect night for viewing it from Armidale, with intermittent cloud and mist. Christian didn't even bother getting the powerful binoculars and tripod out, even though the unusual sight was visible at times.

   I opened the program Stellarium on my big computer. It's a brilliant program (freely dowloadable for your computer), and I have it set to view the sky in real time. I found the Moon quickly, which isn't surprising because it's one of those sky objects most sighted people do recognise, I'm pretty darn sure.

   Jupiter is a wonder because with even medium-power binoculars you can view it and see its own moons as shining pinpoints of light. With no other planet can you do that.

   After some fiddling and zooming I had the image of the Moon and Jupiter at the right size. Being in real time at that magnification, it was crawling downwards to screen left (or 7 o'clock) to where the relevant data for the sighting were, at the bottom of the screen.

   I quickly took a partial screen capture and immediately posted it to Twitter, saying this:
Behold the moon, Jupiter and its moons from Armidale a few minutes ago.
   Christian and I discussed the phenomenon for a few minutes and then the rather splendid image I tweeted started to be retweeted. 

   At that point, with people complimenting me on the great photograph, I realised I had better explain on Twitter the source of the image – that it was computer generated via Stellarium, but in real time and a perfect match for the real thing in terms of technical and astronomical accuracy. It was not a photograph. Anyone with Stellarium would easily spot it if they were familiar with the program, so what would be the point of pretending it was?

   The image is so dramatic that it set off a retweeting storm. I even "trended". (Don't ask if you're not a Twitter fan; if you are, you'll know already.) Because I and my followers have followers across the world, it went worldwide.

   It deserves to, because it's beautiful. Here it is. But remember – it's not a photo. I used to be able to do plenty with cameras, but not that.

Jupiter, with its moons, on the right. Viewing it in the real sky can be more dramatic.
The night sky, Armidale, Tuesday, 19 February 2013 7:45 PM via Stellarium


  1. Such a splendid reason to be "trendy" in the Twitterverse.
    If I hadn't seen your tweet, I wouldn't have known to go outside into the dark country night (only rural folk know how blessedly dark it can be) to gaze up at a red moon (Victorian bushfire smoke) and see the distinct large red dot of Jupiter hovering off the cut edge of the moon, much closer than it is in your pic.
    Moments like these I wish I had a good set of binoculars!
    And it's also moments like this I am glad I took the plunge, albeit reluctantly at first, into the rich and informative realms of the Tweet-world.

    1. People have trended for worse, like terrible social gaffes by well-known people. I just didn't want to trend a second time because of tweets saying, "This guy's a fraud – he's pretending that's a real photo!"

      In this case, it didn't have to be. And you know, if for that 5 minutes before I clarified what it was that people got a real buzz out of the delusion, I admit I'm willing to take any flak!

  2. I love it! I had not heard of that program, but I am going to get it right after this - looks amazing. I have the Night Sky, Pocket Universe and Planets apps on my phone which I love as well.
    Gorgeous "photo" anyway - what a great way to trend.

    1. You will love this program, especially if you have a big computer screen. If you can hook it up to an even bigger LCD TV screen, it's even more fun.


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