Incredible lunar eclipse floats near the Lagoon

By Phil Plait | July 1, 2011 6:33 am

The total lunar eclipse two weeks ago spurred a lot of astrophotographers to capture the event, and I saw quite a few really pretty shots. But then I saw this one, which is so breath-taking I immediately emailed the photographer to get permission to share it with you:

[Click to enumbranate.]

Wow. What you’re seeing is the totally eclipsed Moon glowing a dull orange-red as it reflects sunlight filtered through Earth’s atmosphere, sitting next to the Lagoon Nebula, itself pinkish-red due to the presence of octillions of tons of warm hydrogen. Just above the Lagoon and much farther away in space lies the blue-and-red Trifid Nebula, itself a star-forming region like the Lagoon. The Moon was in the constellation of Ophiuchus, near Sagittarius; from Earth this direction is looking straight into the galactic center. That’s why you can also see thousands of densely-packed stars in the image.

The photographer, Emil Ivanov, combined five two-minute exposures during the deepest part of the eclipse to create this stunning picture. He took it in a small village (with dark skies!) about 40 km from Varna, Bulgaria. Funny– this same image taken an hour or so later would look very different; the full Moon (outside of the Earth’s shadow) would totally swamp the shot, and all you’d see was the moon itself! But this eclipse was so dark that even faint stars could be seen.

The Lagoon and Moon look to be about the same size in this shot, but in fact the Lagoon is about 100 light years across or a quadrillion kilometers. The Moon is a mere 3500 km across, but is a wee bit closer.

And while I’m at it, just so’s you know, that tree looks to be about 10 meters away. That would make the Moon 40 million times farther away than the tree… but the Lagoon Nebula, at 4000 light years distant, is 100 billion times farther away than that.

I love astronomy for the incredible artistic appeal it provides, but man, sometimes just as important is the perspective it provides.

Image credit: Emil Ivanov; tip o’ the lens cap to the Amateur Astronomy Picture of the Day

Related posts:

In the shadow of the Earth
My new favorite lunar eclipse image
Stuck in the Lagoon’s quagmire
Red Lagoon
Swim in the Lagoon


Comments (27)

  1. Chris P K

    Just out of curiosity, are you sure it was five 2 min exposures and not four? I ask because most of the tree blurs seem to be in sets of four, which would seem to suggest four individual exposures with brief pauses between. I suppose it would be possible that something illuminated the leaves slightly in four of the exposures and not the first or fifth, but that seems slightly unlikely.

    In any case, it is a very beautiful image, which seems to be a trend for this photographer. Thank you for exposing us to his work.

  2. Douglas Troy

    Wow. That is awesome. I even like the effect that’s happened with the tree, bringing an almost surreal element to the image.

    Great photo Emil!

    *golf clap*

  3. Cindy

    Great image, Phil.

    However, you have mis-spelled the photographer’s name in the link and have inadvertently given him a feminine last name. You got it correct in the image credit. “Ivanov” is the masculine form, “Ivanova” is the feminine. Babylon 5 got it correct with the feminine version for Susan Ivanova.

    Sorry, this is one of the few things I do remember after taking Russian for four years in college many years ago.

  4. Mejilan

    The framing is so perfect it almost looks like one of those ‘artist concept renders’ that you see headlining astronomy articles all too often…


    @Douglas Troy,

    Eh? A *golf clap* is meant to be sarcastic, so was that your intention?

  6. Monkey

    @IVAN3MAN: Nah, I think it was just a quiet salute gesture. Thats how I took it, at least.

    I want this on my wall…my *real* wall. The think that encases my bed, gives my closet something to stand up against….

  7. josephgilbert

    The perspective astronomy provides is what attracts me to it the most. Little dot here, little dot there, little dots everywhere. If I wasn’t so good at basketball I would consider astronomy as a career.

  8. On a night with a New Moon, in an area with next to no light pollution, would we still see a similar view of the sky, or are the nebulae only that visible because of the long exposure?

  9. I could do without the tree to be honest, but damn still an epic shot. Kills anything I can do so far.


  10. Bobby Stefanov

    Wow!! I looks like it’s on fire! It’s amazing. And from a fellow Bulgarian, so it’s double cool.

  11. That’s quite an awesome picture, thank the photographer again for sharing. The compression is quite amazing with the trees being nearly 10 km away. You can kind of count the number of exposures with the bands of trees.

  12. Truly amazing! Thank you for sharing!

  13. Douglas Troy


    Please refer to your copy of the Urban Dictionary, item #2, found here:


  14. DrFlimmer


    Nothin’ to add.

  15. Anchor

    “I love astronomy for the incredible artistic appeal it provides, but man, sometimes just as important is the perspective it provides.”

    Yes! Precisely! Bravo! More!

  16. Anchor

    @#4 Mejilan, who says, “The framing is so perfect it almost looks like one of those ‘artist concept renders’ that you see headlining astronomy articles all too often…”


    Except, unfortunately, the state of rigorous and beautiful and scientifically accurate and just plain COMPELLING astronomical art has declined precipitously, especially over the last decade.

    It’s an enormous problem: GREAT astronomical artists of considerable and long-demonstrated talent are being systematically marginalized by the draw of obtaining cheap crap.

    If any arena of scientific illustration has suffered under this erosion more (and one can obtain some rough estimation by comparing the state of biological or paleontological art to astronomical art over the course of the last 50 years for a good idea of what I’m talking about), it is in the despicable trend of dismissing established and great astronomical artists simply because magazines and bureaucratically drenched outreach programs (either government or university) have somehow determined that IF any artwork is necessary for supplying an image which a given discovery or news release needs because the strictly scientific data or imagery consists of a single point of light or a spectrograph doesn’t supply the necessary oomph, they’ll almost inevitably ask some convenient (often hired staff) artist to supply a depiction under the direction of the science team or the team’s principle member to create an image that is most often – let’s face it, once and for all – a disgusting throwback which had been superceded by artwork by experts decades earlier.

    BUT, BECAUSE a discovery is noteworthy if not spectacular, they then “NEED” a good artist to flesh out the discovery. Without it their discovery won’t pass polular muster. Right?

    Grind up the ‘outreach’ machine…but don’t spend too much because established artists don’t really do a better job.

    Alas, they increasingly often give the commission to some dolt just out of an art course who typically has no understanding of the astrophysics involved in order to inform his or her portrayal. The inevitable result for us readers is an endlessly cheezy series of depictions (say) of x-ray binaries that are copied (they might say, um, “inspired by”) from tiresomely dull if not hideously botched previous portrayals.

    The so-called ‘State of the Art” of astronomical artistry – which had been growing from the 50’s to the early 80’s – has been thoroughly wrecked, reduced to a contemptible competition for some horrible median instead of always spiking anew toward possibilities that have been specifically and abundantly offered by numerous computational simulations.

    With increasingly rare exceptions, we see almost nothing of that kind of bold artistic/scientific statement in artwork. What we see instead is an endless regurgitation of some general “concept” – and the portrayed concept is typically 20, 30 or even 50 years out of date. And the caliber of the artistry is increasingly horrible.

    With nearly every news release we get now which involves artwork, we are greeted with a hideous recapitulation of what some previous artist had depicted. Artistic originality is skunked. WORSE, the SCIENCE gets skunked. The COMMUNICATION gets skunked.

    And who is responsible for this state of affairs? Everybody who pretends that they know better how to visualize a concept than an expert artist who is also well informed on the science.

    You know what magazine editors and ‘public outreach’ managers want? The CHEAPEST route to acquiring ‘NECESSARY’ artwork.

    And they keep at it because almost nobody complains that the artwork they deliver sucks.

    Mark this: ANY culture that attempts to shave off NECESSARY expense is a culture that is headed directly to self-extermination. And a culture that does not value expertise or authentic talent is a culture driving itself directly into the hole of extinction. I do not have to mention any of the myriad other ways we are shooting ourselves in the foot. Many of us already realize how we are so steadfastly approaching such a dispicable end.

  17. Anchor

    Pardon the off-topic branch – but that’s to be expected in any system dynamic which inspires a corrolary thought.

  18. Bob

    That is the best of the wide-view photos of the eclipse and the surrounding star field. Getting the nebula is just fantastic!
    The second best of these is one I received from a serviceman in Afghanistan. It’s a 30 second unguided exposure while his camera and tripod was on top of a generator building.
    It was helped by the lack of light pollution due to the blackout conditions at the base for security reasons.

  19. Messier Tidy Upper

    Wow! :-)

    Superluminous eclipse image there. I love it. 😀

    If this isn’t chosen as one of the BA’s top 10 astronomy images of 2011, I’ll be very surprised! 😉

  20. Nigel Depledge

    Horse (9) said:

    On a night with a New Moon, in an area with next to no light pollution, would we still see a similar view of the sky, or are the nebulae only that visible because of the long exposure?

    Well, I don’t know if those nebulae are naked-eye objects (and can’t look it up from work due to our “enlightened” web filter software), but if they were . . .

    Probably all you would see is little faint fuzzy patches of whitish light. Even with binoculars, you’d probably still not see much colour, because there wouldn’t be enough light hitting your retina in one go to activate the cone photoreceptors that enable colour vision.

    What I can be fairly sure of is that any significant amount of light pollution will render them very hard to see, even with a telescope or a long-exp photo (unless the light pollution is from low-pressure sodium lamps and you have a sodium band-stop filter attached to your telescope).

  21. Nigel Depledge

    Addressing the OP:

    Superb photo, well composed and taken.

    It’s interesting to note that the moon’s orbital motion is not apparent in the 10 minutes (or whatever) during which this image was taken, but that the Earth’s rotational motion is. (Well, I think that’s interesting.)

  22. Nigel Depledge

    @ Anchor (19) –
    That’s a truly impassioned comment. It is plain to see that you feel very strongly about that issue. I’m inclined to agree with you, but not to quite that emotional depth.

    Have you shared your feelings with the editorial staff of the relevant press?

  23. Anchor

    Nigel, I’m glad that you find my remarks at least self-evident first. That shows me you have actually looked at and noticed how dismal astronomical artwork has become.

    Being a science illustrator with a strong science background (astronomy and physics and chemistry and paleontology, but principally on astronomical and astrophysical depiction and simulation) of over 45 years myself, yes, I DO feel I have full reason to express my distress over the deterioration of an artform close to my heart. From my point of view I think that it is impossible to be excessively passionate. Most every long-term veteran astronomical artist of exceptional skill would regard my comments as a relatively mild rebuke that isn’t anywhere near enough to set the record straight. It really IS that big of a problem.

    Never mind the supposed ’emotional depth’: what’s so is so. You’ll be hearing more about it in future. It really is a problem and it really is that emotionally charged.

    Otherwise, Nigel, you are one of the precious few commentators here who actually have the rare and refreshing audacity to proffer a statement of authentic worth, relevenace and importance , and I thank you for being that authentic – and so graciously asking me about the topic I raised in a kind and genuinely curious manner. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for that… ..


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