Are you planning to watch the “great conjunction” of Jupiter and Saturn tonight (December 21)? You can photograph the event once every 800 years with only your mobile phone in your pocket.
Tonight, Jupiter and Saturn will look so close in the night sky that they will appear as a bright “star”. The couple reaches a close relationship once every 20 years, but tonight, the planets will be the closest they have had to the night sky in almost 800 years.
This does not mean that the planets are actually close in the cosmos, but they will appear to be right on top of each other from our vantage point on planet Earth.
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So how do you photograph tonight’s “big conjunction”?
First, you will need to find the planets in the night sky. Jupiter and Saturn will appear as a point in the sky and will be much brighter than most other stars in the sky, so bright that you do not need to be in a dark place to see them. Shortly after sunset, if you are in the northern hemisphere, you will be able to observe the pair in the southwestern sky. From the southern hemisphere, you can observe the planets in the western sky.
Once you’ve zeroed in, it’s time to take a picture.
Using a mobile phone
If you use your mobile phone, the planets will be bright enough to be visible with the phone’s camera. However, to optimize your photo, GODMOTHER recommends a few tricks.
It won’t help much to enlarge the planets, but framing them can help them appear in your image, according to NASA. You can also put your phone’s camera in “night mode”, which is available on some mobile phone models and automatically implements a long stabilized exposure in your images. You can hold the phone while using night mode, but it’s easier. keep it constant for this long exposure if your phone is on a tripod or is resting against something.
You can even use a wide-angle lens with your phone, which can be found in many mobile phone settings. This will allow you to configure the composition of your image and experiment with framing, according to the same guide.
Using a DSLR
If you use something heavier, such as a DSLR camera, NASA shared a few tips for you too. First, you can set the camera’s focus to Infinity in manual focus mode, which will display the planets in a clearer definition. You can also open your aperture as wide as possible, letting in as much light as possible. With a DSLR, you can also reduce the shutter speed if you have problems with instability.
One of the main advantages of using a camera over a mobile phone, if available to you, is the ability to use a telephoto lens to see the planets individually and even to see their unique features. In fact, with a 200mm telephoto lens you should even be able to see the four Galilean months or the largest of Jupiter. With a telescope or a longer lens, you can even see Saturn’s rings and capture more detail at higher resolution.
Tips for everyone
No matter what camera you use, it can help you use a tripod or set your camera or phone against something sturdy. This technique can set your hand for a clearer photo and allow you to make a longer exposure, letting in more light and helping you put the planets on the center stage of the photo, according to NASA. If you photograph the planets with a DSLR and a tripod, “use a shutter speed of up to a few seconds. Moreover, the Earth’s rotation will scatter the planets and stars,” NASA suggests in the same guide.
Regardless of the camera you use to photograph the event, you will have one or two hours when the planets are visible in the early evening, shortly after sunset. During this time, the sky will change colors and become darker. Sitting outside all this time, you can try to photograph the conjunction in different lights as the sky changes, capturing the planets with the sunset and the dark night sky, NASA suggests.
In addition, although you might try to capture the conjunction itself, if you play with the composition of your photo, framing the planets with trees or buildings in the foreground, it can add visual interest and highlight the bright spot of light that will brought out, according to NASA.
Regardless of the method you intend to watch and photograph the event, keep your fingers crossed for good weather, as clouds could prevent you from witnessing a clear and bright “excellent conjunction”.
Editor’s note: If you catch a stunning picture of the great December 21st conjunction and want to share it with Space.com for a story or gallery, send pictures and comments to [email protected].
Send an email to Chelsea Gohd at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @chelsea_gohd. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.