Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Occultation

"We may go to the moon, but that's not very far. The greatest distance we have to cover still lies within us.” (Charles de Gaulle)

Venus Moon Occultation (c) 2009 John Ashley
We got the dogs out of bed at 4AM and drove up to Glacier Park so we could set up the cameras before dawn. Just before sunrise, a crescent Venus was set to dissappear behind the crescent moon, only to reappear on the other side an hour later. It was a rare "occultation," and we were determined to see it.

We picked a location where the moon would rise against a backdrop of snow-capped mountains. On this morning, however, they were also cloud-capped. Looking due east, where the moon would clear the horizon, there were clear skies to the north and clouds to the south. And not even pretty clouds, but dull gray ones.

We crossed our fingers. But by the time the moon and Venus emerged from the clouds, they were way above the horizon. So much for my snowy mountain scene -- and a couple days of planning. But it's still pretty special to sit on a pre-dawn mountainside with your family, and watch a natural spectacle unfold.

The photo above is a composite of images taken at two-minute intervals. Shortly after Venus dissappeared, the clouds returned. The moon eventually climbed back out of the clouds, and we did get to watch Venus reappear. But by then the sky was bright blue and the moon was just about impossible to see. So we did what any starving artists would do -- we went for a big breakfast at one of our favorite eateries.

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