Lunar flight

By Phil Plait | December 19, 2008 2:33 pm

How about some nicer news for a change?

Pilot and fellow skeptic Billy Derbyshire took a pretty cool picture of the full Moon rising at sunset.

Click to Brobdingnagify.

As he told me:

I took this picture from the cockpit of a Gulfstream II business jet. It typically cruises at .82 Mach and altitudes up to 45,000 feet. The photo was taken about 300 nautical miles west of Bermuda.

Wow. If you look carefully, just under the Moon is a triangular shadow pointing up at the Moon. I suspect that’s a shadow of a cloud. I’ve seen this many times flying myself, though not at 45,000!

By the way, this shot was taken with an iPhone. Quick, someone get this guy a 12Mpx Nikon!

Thanks to JREFer Sean McCabe for sending this to me!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Pretty pictures

Comments (32)

  1. Quatguy

    I think you have the wrong photo Phil, I am not sure what you are talking about!

  2. Quatguy, it looks right to me. Why do you say that?

  3. MDF

    I see no ‘triangular shadow’ in this one… But I have bad eyes.

  4. as a semi-profesional stock photographer I have this to say:

    I hate him and his IPhone

    *hisses and slutters with jealousy*

    and yes, there’s a shadow, I can see it.

  5. Trebuchet

    I see a shadow, but not triangular or pointing at the moon. More like trapezoidal with the moon on one corner. Possibly from the illuminated cloud bank in the foreground or the one a little further off on the right, depending on where the sun is.

  6. crucifinch

    I see the shadow that you’re talking about Phil, it’s not the most obvious, but it’s definitely there. And cool.

    Also – “Brobdingnagify”??
    Is that what they called embiggening back in the days of Lemuel Gulliver??

  7. I don’t see a triangular shadow either.

  8. Thomas Siefert

    BA Said: “By the way, this shot was taken with an iPhone. Quick, someone get this guy a 12Mpx Nikon!”

    It’s not the size of your pixel count that matters, it’s what you do with them that counts (as the picture is proof of).

  9. It’s the Bermuda Triangle!!!!!!!!!!!!!111!!!!!eleven!!!!!!!

  10. Tristan Noel

    Something wrong with this picture. The moon is way too clear, way too bright, and has zero detail. It actually looks a lot like a Microsoft Bullet superimposed on the photograph.

    The pixels also don’t match up quite right… Dig the stuff you post, Phil, but this seriously looks like a ‘shop.

  11. I do see the shadow, it is very hard to see unless you squint. This was taken near Bermuda, you say??? May I suggest that the shadow is the “Bermuda Triangle!”?

    BTW. Phil, if you fly commercially, I bet you have hit 45,000 feet. Modern jet aircraft routinely fly at that altitude. Last time I flew from Edmonton to Vancouver, a 90 minute flight, we topped out at 42,000 feet on a B 737-700.

  12. Mike Rondeau

    What no Love for Canon lol

  13. Brobdingnagify… now there’s a swyftey word you’ll get some raised eyebrows about from the laputans that visit your blog…

  14. Tristan Noel, you’ll have to say exactly why you think that. The Moon being clear? It was taken 9 miles above the planet! Too bright? The full Moon is magnitude -13, hundreds of times brighter than the brightest nighttime star. No details? The moon is slightly overexposed, as you’d expect for clouds lit by the setting Sun. “Pixels also don’t match up right”? What does that mean?

  15. Windyshrimp

    The cumulonimbus cloud looks awesome in this pic 0.0

  16. Tristan Noel

    The moon appears to have a black line around its edge, and the pixels(the little squares that make up the picture) have no real appearance of spread or blur. If the moon was overexposed, it would appear much like the sun does in the daylit sky, like a bright flare, even if only slightly overclicked, much moreso if enough to blur out any details at all.

    Also, I question whether or not the iPhone has image stabilization(I’m guessing no), as if there was overexposure, there would be motion blur, even if only just a tiny bit, in the foreground, unless those clouds are WAY below him.

    Even still avoiding those problems, the rest of the picture appears to blend very thoroughly, as if each object or image portion blends perfectly into the other portion, light radial blurring being a relative constant throughout the photo. The moon, on the other hand, is a stark, perfect white circle with almost no radial blur at all, and what appears to be a defined black line around it, hence the mismatch appearance in pixels…

    Perhaps I’m reading too far into it, but it certainly raises the motion of curiousity as to just how that many problems can appear in an otherwise natural photo.

  17. PG

    @Tristan Noel: actually, I can see some detail on the moon in the original size picture, and some blurring around the edges.

    But I see what you’re trying to say- there’s a clear Moon conspiracy here, right? I mean, what’s this pilot trying to cover up anyway? ūüėČ

  18. Hi,

    If I am correct, you mean a relatively small shadow “mountain” a very bit left-down to the Moon and not the large trapesoid darkness. I tend to be seeing that.

    However if I hide the Moon with my thumb, the effect disappears. Isn’t that a special illusion only caused by the bright Moon?


  19. Tim G

    I once saw the moon rise on a transcontinental flight. The moon was red as it rose above the horizon and provided quite a sight.

  20. Cameras expose for the overall lighting, which in this image is far dimmer than the Moon. It doesn’t need a long exposure at all to overexpose the Moon; a fraction of a second could do it.

  21. PhilG

    “…depending on where the sun is.” It’s a full moon so the sun is close to directly behind.

  22. Ibeechu

    Phil, would you mind circling the shadow in the photo? I see a few shadows, but I don’t know if any of them are what you’re talking about.

  23. Charles Boyer

    “Something wrong with this picture. The moon is way too clear, way too bright, and has zero detail. ”

    Tristan, read this for more information on lunar photography:

    In short, as Phil says, the moon is very bright relative to its surroundings and with a photo balanced for detail in the surrounding clouds and lighting, the moon will be overexposed.

  24. llewelly

    Now that’s pretty lame, Phil. First clear shot of an Alien Spacecraft and you try to pass it off as a ‘triangular shadow’. Why, it’s a UFO, as obvious as the nose on your face.

    Did They promise to abduct you first? I’d just like to know.

  25. The way I see it, Phil, The shadow is from the cloud, remember the sun is not just behind but also at a lower angle, ie: it is shining slightly upwards (something that only us pilots and mountain goats see). The shape of the shadow could be caused by the shape of the cloud or just vanishing point perspective.
    Either way it is a great photo of just one of the many fantastic sights that pilots see out of their office window every day (you earthlings really should get up here more often).

  26. quasidog

    That is a great photo. I often watch sunsets and this is a prime example of why .. not that I get a chance to see them traveling at .82 Mach and at 45,000 feet. :)

    I love shots of planets, and deep sky shots taken by Hubble, and various other beautiful scenic images, but the sheer simplicity of this photo, and the fact it is right here on out planet .. well … it is definitely on par with those.

    Cloud’s + Sunlight == *Gasp*.

  27. Tristan Noel

    Lazy link to I may have been wrong about how that photo came out, as I’m used to wider overexposures(I sell lunar photographs at high exp through my site, not currently listed, for amusement purposes.) Neat effects can be made, as one of my shots has people often confused as to whether or not it’s a daylight shot of the sun, or a night shot. Which is awesome, for a Canon AE1-P.

    Also has the black rim effect, but more amusingly, the shadow of the launch plume is just plain cool. As the title tells, this is a launch photograph from the shuttle Atlantis. If you want pointing shadows, the sun is behind this image at just such an angle that the shadow points directly to the moon. Also, the sunlight hitting the plume makes it almost appear as though it were still on fire, though physics would make us question why it would be in the center of a very long plume of launch exhaust…

    As for my previous statement, the photo looked off to me. That’s what skepticism is all about, Charlie Brown. Not always believing what you see, until you see correlations and/or other evidence, no? :)

  28. TheWalruss

    Tristan: Wow, that photo is wicked!

  29. Tristan Noel

    Agreed. Maybe Phil should post it sometime?

    Totally worth a try.

  30. quasidog

    I am pretty sure that photo has had a mention on this blog in the past Tristan. I have seen it around a lot and actually have it on my HD for a while now. It has been my desktop wallpaper for a fair time.

  31. Your blog is amazing, i first landed to another post but then get interested and thought, i will just look a little more arround to see what else i can find out about such stuff :-)


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