About a year ago I spent an entire night with my camera and telescope on a very particular mission:  To see every planet that was in the night sky at that time.  From dusk till dawn, I viewed and imaged the Moon, Venus, Saturn, Jupiter, Mars and Neptune.  I hadn't seen much of Mars before that point (it was just starting to return to our skies) and I'd never seen Neptune before at all.  I'd gone on long astro-missions before, but that was the first time I pulled an all-nighter for such a purpose.  During the first summer I had any usable equipment, only Jupiter was in the sky, so the next year was a treat to be able see all those planets. This past weekend, I had a chance to do it again.

This summer will be another great one for viewing, because of another fortuitous planetary conjunction.  As with last year's conjunction of Jupiter and Neptune, our planet-king will be parked extremely close to Uranus for the next two months.  This is awfully considerate of Uranus to do because it is absurdly hard to find it unless you know your way around the sky incredibly well...which I don't.

 Pictured: Uranus.  Really, that's it.

Another summer treat?  Jupiter itself.  As Phil Plait reported a few weeks ago, one of the large bands that circle around Jupiter has vanished.  It's probably sunk below the visible cloud level, but the net-result is Jupiter looks really different.  

Compare this picture I took in July:
With this picture I took on Sunday morning:

The light pollution is a little worse where I live now (compared to where I lived last year), which is partially why the detail isn't as fine as I'd like it.  Also, I just need a better camera (with more megapixels).  I'm accepting donations of $1000 dollar cameras.

Over the course of the night, we (the Missus and I) saw (and imaged) the Moon, Venus, Mars, Saturn, Jupiter and Uranus.   It was a refreshing opportunity to get my butt out there with my awkwardly-large equipment, made even better because I got to share the sky with someone special.  Now, my solar system family album is finally complete, and it just took a bit of patience, skill and some modest equipment.

My Solar System collection, from left-to-right.
Top row: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Moon
Second row: Jupiter, Saturn
Third Row: Uranus
Fourth Row: Neptune, Sun
Background: Comet Lulin.

For more of my astro-stuff, be sure to check out my sorely neglected astronomy flickr stream, or read my most recent Skeptic North article about why the sun looks squished and red at the horizon (with more of my photos)!

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