At Last! A clear view of Venus and Mercury.

I was particularly keen to get some photos of the conjunction of Venus and Mercury happening at the moment but every day after sunset has either been wet and miserable or, at the very least, thick cloud. But yesterday showed promise, with a clearing sky in the afternoon and little wind. In between rebuilding a couple of computers I kept my eye on the sky as things continued to improve. Alas, as late afternoon turned into early evening, thickening cloud rolled into the west and my heart sank as I thought that this was going to be yet another astronomical delight denied to me by the weather. This winter has seen more than it’s fair share of those! Undaunted, and having reviewed various weather and satellite websites, I thought there might be a chance of clearing skies (or at least views between clouds) if I headed west and south.

As I drove south it remained cloudy for quite some time then a few glints of the setting sun appeared and my hopes rose. I decided to try the view from the Ward of Scousburgh, the highest place in the south Mainland; once there the sky began to clear and, as I watched, Venus became visible, first with the binoculars then with my unaided eyes. It was perhaps another 20 minutes or so before I found fainter Mercury just barely visible with the binoculars. There were still quite a few clouds around, thick clouds low on the horizon, high clouds covering large areas of the sky and various clouds in between. I waited anxiously, hoping the two planets would remain visible long enough to get some photos. Eventually I took a few photos with the telephoto lens showing Mercury just 3° away from Venus but at a very slightly higher level

With a few shots on the card I felt confident enough to try another location at a lower altitude so as to add some landscape features for scale and character; the sky was still hit and miss, with large areas of cloud around but it was as good as it was likely to get – the forecast for the next few days was pretty poor with extensive rain showers starting the next day. Coming down off the hill there are superb views of the beach at Scousburgh and I stopped there for a few photos, with some good results. But what I had really been hoping for with this conjunction was to get a photo of the planets together with the Auld Chapel at Dunrossness, still illuminated as part of the Mirrie Dancers winter illuminations, so I headed there – though without much hope as I could see from Vanlop that the area west of the Chapel.

As I pulled up I could see both Venus and Mercury, both free of cloud but thick cloud was moving in from the south – the Chapel was still illuminated, as I’d hoped, now just bet into position! I walked up the hill and positioned my kit and shot off a few images – I managed to get both planets and the Chapel in shot, just before the two planets dipped into the horizon cloud, not to be seen again – or so I thought. My last shots of the night were at Spiggie beach – a sudden, last minute inspiration took me there. I knew the alignment would be perfect but didn’t hold out much hope of seeing the planets because they had already gone below the horizon cloud and because it was getting to the time when both would set – in fact it was nearly 10 PM by this time. As luck would have it, both planets shone through gaps in the cloud just long enough for me to get a couple of photos, the last one just 6 minutes before Venus set below the horizon. This all rounded off a more successful night than I could have hoped for and that was a real bonus given the conditions earlier. As it happened the night became fully clear for the next few hours before clouding over with the rain coming in the next day, as forecast. Here are some of the images I captured.

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