A warm greeting for the frigid Moon

By Phil Plait | March 9, 2012 10:47 am

Dave Brosha is a photographer who loves to capture spectacular and unusual night sky scenes — his picture of another photographer silhouetted against an aurora graced this blog in November 2011.

He just sent me two more he took last night. He went to Yellowknife, in the Northwest Territories of Canada. The aurorae were active last night as the Sun’s recent hissy fit sparked a geomagnetic storm, but by the time Dave go his equipment set up, the Moon was up and the aurorae fading. But never one to waste an opportunity, he took this incredibly dramatic and moving picture:

Stunning. [Click to enannulenate.] Ice crystals suspended in the air refract (bend) light from the Moon, and due to their geometry they create a ring around it. This is common in winter, but it’s rare — at least in the lower 48 — to get one this bright. The bright "star" on the edge of the ring at the top is actually Mars, which is terribly bright and ruddy in the night skies right now. The fainter star inside the halo is Denebola, the tail of Leo.

He also took this more upbeat picture (click to embiggen) which is another fantastic shot of the halo. You can still see Mars, with the bright Regulus (the heart of Leo) to the right, and just to the left of his hand is either Saturn or the bright blue star Spica in Virgo; I’m not sure which since they’re close to each other in the sky right now. Given how far it’s outside the halo, I’m leaning toward it being Saturn with his hand blocking the view of Spica. As an added bonus, you can see a faint arc of light at the top of the halo, called an upper tangent arc; these are more rare. I’ve only seen them a handful of times near the Sun, and never from a Moon halo!

Having spent a lot of time — a lot — out in the cold waiting for that one great shot, that one great view through the telescope, I can sympathize with what Dave went through to get these… and know he agrees that it was absolutely worth it.

Image credits: Dave Brosha, used with permission.


Related Posts:

- Ring around the Moon
- Tripping the light fantastic
- Mistical Moonrise time lapse
- Water falls, moonbow shines, aurorae glow

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Pretty pictures

Comments (15)

  1. Dragonchild

    Upon which I get snarky. . .

    LENS FLARE!!!

    Seriously, cool shot (no pun intended). But I can totally imagine Dave shouting “lens flare” at the Moon in the lower picture like some sort of Dragonball Z battle cry.

  2. Dave is an awesome photographer! If something crazy happens in the Yellowknife’s sky, you can be sure he will have some incredible shots of it!

  3. Chris

    They are Ice Rainbows.

  4. Ken

    The bright “star” on the edge of the ring at the top is actually Mars, which is terribly bright and ruddy in the night skies right now.

    Jupiter and Venus are gorgeous just after sunset. They keep surprising me by getting closer each night – I should look up the ephemerides to see when they’re closest.

  5. Messier Tidy Upper

    Stunning photos there. Love’em – thanks! :-)

  6. Sanjay

    Brilliant pics!
    I’ve seen these moon rainbows many times, but once over the warm seas of Thailand, I saw a complete circular rainbow around the noon-day sun. Can someone explain how that happens?
    Is it possible that there are ice-crystals in the sky even on the tropics?

  7. kat wagner

    Oooo, love these pix! A couple weeks ago I got a few shots of the tail end of a whole group of rainbow clouds kind of clustered around the sun – I had never seen that before. I have a bunch of photos of rainbow circles around the sun, even double ones. But I’d never seen those rainbow clouds before. I thought I was seeing things! I mean, you know what I mean.

    Here’s where: /http://www.flickr.com/photos/blueglacier/6945777547/

  8. Daniel J. Andrews

    For me, the most striking thing about the photograph are the depth of the tracks in the snow. I’ve spent the last two months snow-shoeing on various surveys up north and even on good sites we sank halfway to our knees. He didn’t sink into the snow very much at all. Perhaps the wind has scoured the snow away, or a strong crust has formed in the open, or he’s on a well-packed trail that was just covered by fresh snow…?

  9. Nigel Depledge

    Sanjay (7) said:

    Brilliant pics!
    I’ve seen these moon rainbows many times, but once over the warm seas of Thailand, I saw a complete circular rainbow around the noon-day sun. Can someone explain how that happens?
    Is it possible that there are ice-crystals in the sky even on the tropics?

    Yeah. Calling them “rainbows” is misleading, because a rainbow forms around tha antisolar point (opposite the sun) and an icebow or Halo forms around the moon or the sun.

    It’s exactly the same mechanism whether around the moon or the sun – refraction in ice crystals in the upper atmosphere, and, yes, the stratosphere is pretty damn cold above the tropics as well.

  10. Nigel Depledge

    Oh, and -
    Brilliant pics!

  11. John H

    I remember deriving the minimum angle of deviation for ice crystals for an assignment in my first optics course. It was one of those moments of revelation that connect something beautiful with the underlying reasons for it’s appearance, and makes the whole phenomenon more fascinating.

  12. Brian Too

    @9. Daniel J. Andrews,

    I’m plausibly close to Yellowknife, about 600 km, and I have to say that there just isn’t that much snow this year. The winter has been very mild and there’s much less snow than normal.

    Quite a contrast to last year, which brought snow, and more snow, and still more snow, well, you get the idea.

  13. Sanjay

    Thanks Nigel, for your answer. I owe you a good solid Thai massage, whenever you get here.
    Not that I’m going to give it to you myself, mind you :)

  14. Matt B.

    @10 Nigel, ‘Calling them “rainbows” is misleading, because a rainbow forms around tha antisolar point’

    Well, this is formed around the anti-lunar point, just with a radius of more than 90 degrees.

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