I missed the lunar eclipse on Saturday morning, but a whole bunch of people got up to see it (click that link and scroll down to the comments; lots of folks link to their pictures). That includes photographer Jeffrey Sullivan, who took a sequence of pictures of the Moon from San Francisco, and put together this extremely cool time lapse animation covering ten minutes of the eclipse:
How amazing is that? It’s no coincidence he got the Moon to pass right behind the narrow pyramid of the Transamerica Building like that. According to the description on the YouTube page, he used some software to find the position of the Moon at various times, including the altitude (its distance above the horizon). Knowing the height of the building, he could then figure out how far away he had to be for the top of the building to be at that same altitude (it’s just a bit of trig). Then it was just a matter of finding a good spot using Google Earth — of course, accuracy is an issue. If the Moon was only 20 degrees off the horizon, then, given the 260 meter height of the building he had to be within about 10 meters of the right spot (about 715 meters from the building) or the Moon would miss. The lower the Moon, the less accurate he needed to be. Still. Nicely done.
When I was younger, dragging my telescope to the end of my driveway to observe the sky, I used to do calculations like that, and it would take forever. I had to look stuff up in tables, interpolate between entries, do all kinds of math — only to find out that somewhere along the line I dropped a 2 someplace and messed it all up. I would’ve cheerfully killed for access to the kind of software we have today.
It’s easy to be jaded with the privilege we have now. Animations like this one from Jeffrey drive home how amazing our tools have become.
Tomorrow (Saturday December 10) the Moon will pass into the Earth’s shadow, causing it to plunge into ruddy darkness, an event called a total lunar eclipse. These happen roughly twice a year somewhere on Earth, but this is the last one visible in North America for more than two years, so even though it’s in the morning it might be worth a look for you.
You can get all the info you need on watching the eclipse from my pal Alan Boyle over at the Cosmic Log, including timing, locations, and where to watch live online, too. NASA has a page with more detailed information as well. This one favors US folks farther west; the Moon will have set when the eclipse really starts for East Coast folks.
But the fun begins when the Moon starts to enter the deepest part of the Earth’s shadow at 12:45 UT (04:45 Pacific US time), and the last bit passes into shadow at 14:06 UT (06:06 Pacific). Deepest eclipse is about 25 minutes after that. Interestingly, for people in the western US, that’s around the same time as sunrise. For me, the Sun rises at 07:12 (Mountain time) Saturday, and the Moon sets at 07:14 — when it’s still partially eclipsed! Unfortunately, the mountains to the west will block my view of the setting Moon.
But for those of you with a clear horizon to the east and west, you may get an extraordinary opportunity to very briefly see the Sun and eclipsed Moon at the same time! Normally this isn’t possible; by definition the Moon and Sun have to be directly opposite each in the sky to get an eclipse at all.
But due to a quirk of geometry and atmospheric physics, it is possible. Read More
Last June, there was a total eclipse of the Moon, and I posted some really nice pictures of it (see Related Posts, below). Later, I saw one that was truly amazing. Seriously, it doesn’t get much better than this:
Holy wow! [Click to penumbrenate.]
That picture, by Chris Kotsiopoulos, is clearly a once-in-a-lifetime shot. He took it from Ikaria, a Greek island in the Aegean Sea. He thought he was going to miss the eclipse due to a thunderstorm, but the clouds parted for a few minutes right in the middle of the eclipse, and he got his shot. You can see the Moon, dull red, floating in the sky to the right of center. The multiple lightning strikes are, well, striking. As someone who has tried to take pictures like this many times, what’s even more remarkable to me is that this was a 28 second exposure! That didn’t allow him too many chances to get this shot right.
The next lunar eclipse is on December 10, 2011, and will be visible to Asia and Australia. I haven’t checked it for accuracy, because yikes, but wikipedia has a list of all lunar eclipses in the 21st century, with maps! The one in August 2036 is particularly long. Mark your calendar.
Credit: Chris Kotsiopoulos, used with permission. Tip o’ the lens cap to Earth Science Picture of the Day.
I’ve seen a lot of lunar eclipses, and they are usually really lovely (as the pictures I’ve been posting attest to), but they’re very slow, lasting for hours. It’s fun to look for a minute, go do something else for a few, then look again and see how the lighting on the Moon has changed. You don’t really get a sense of motion, just change over time.
But what if you could smoothly speed it up? What would it look like then?
This time lapse video was taken by Jean-Luc Dauvergne in Tajikstan (as an aside, the capitol city of Dushanbe is my hometown Boulder’s sister city). It spans 5 hours, and you can see just how the very bright full Moon plunges into darkness as it enters the shadow of the Earth.
As I pointed out in an earlier post, the Moon was near the galactic center in the sky, so you can see the Milky Way hanging dramatically next to the red Moon, festooned with various star-forming gas clouds as indicated in the video.
This is a stunning view of the eclipse like I’ve never seen before. The reflection on the lake is simply wonderful as well. As more people are taking advantage of digital photography with pan-and-scan camera mounts, I expect we’ll be seeing more clever sequences like this.
Tip o’ the lens cap to APOD and Thomas Buckfelder.
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
Yesterday I posted a few pictures from Monday night’s lunar eclipse — including a really cool one of the Moon and the Space Shuttle Orbiter Discovery — but of the many hundreds I saw, I think I may have a new favorite:
Sigh. How lovely! Click to enaurorenate.
It was taken by Francis Anderson, who has posted quite a few others, too. The location was Tuktoyaktuk, in the Canadian Northwest Territories. This is a small town located at the bone-chilling latitude of 69° north, inside the Arctic Circle. That explains the visibility of the gorgeous aurora borealis, the glow from solar subatomic particles as they slam into our atmosphere. Guided by the Earth’s magnetic field to the geomagnetic poles near the north and south geographic poles, these particles shear electrons off the molecules and atoms of air, causing it to glow.
But what are those columns of light reaching up from the horizon? Read More
I hope a lot of my readers were fortunate enough to have clear weather last night for the eclipse. I noticed that the words cloud and cloudy were trending on Twitter, and given how many people I saw complaining there, the skies were overcast for a whole lot of people.
We had thin clouds here for the beginning of the event, but by the time the Moon plunged into the deepest part of the Earth’s shadow, the skies had cleared magnificently. The Moon turned an eerie dark orange-brown, and the stars came out. I took a lot of pictures, and the one here was when the Moon was well into the Earth’s shadow (click all these pictures to enlunanate). It may not look like much, but I took it by holding my phone camera up to my binoculars! So it’s wasn’t exactly fancy and high-tech. The point being, something like this is easy and fun, and not too hard to capture on camera.
Of course, people with better equipment (and who were better prepared!) took even more amazing shots. This video was made using individual pictures taken telescopically:
Wow. Debussy was a good choice for music, to (and he didn’t go with the obvious "Clair de Lune").
Those of you who live in the North America* will be treated to a total lunar eclipse tomorrow night (Monday night/Tuesday morning)! The whole thing unfolds over about 3.5 hours, starting at 1:30 a.m. Eastern time.
Lunar eclipses are cool, but slow. They’re not like solar eclipses which last a few minutes at most; the shadow of the Earth is quite large, and it takes the Moon a while to move through it (also unlike a solar eclipse, lunar eclipses are perfectly safe to watch with your eyes, with binoculars, or through a telescope without protection). Not only that, there are two parts to the shadow: the outer penumbra, which is very difficult to see when it falls on the Moon, and the much darker umbra, which is what really casts the Moon into the dark. In other words, things really gets started when the Moon moves into the umbra.
Sky and Telescope’s website has an excellent description of the timeline. The Earth’s dark shadow takes its first bite starting around 1:32 a.m. Eastern time (all times will be Eastern from here on out). Over the next 45 minutes or so, the Moon will plunge deeper into shadow, and the entire disk will be covered starting at 2:41 a.m. It’ll stay this way for over an hour, and then at 3:53 a.m. will begin to leave the shadow. An hour or so later, at 5:00 a.m., it’s all over, and the Moon will be restored to being full. Note that the farther west you are, the earlier this happens in the evening. For me, in Mountain time, it starts at the much more palatable 11:32 p.m. Monday night.
There will be a partial lunar eclipse on Saturday, June 26, for folks in the central and western part of the United States. It’s in the morning, so you’ll have to get up early to see it. Here’s what it’ll look like, more or less, from the Mountain Time Zone (so mid-eclipse is at 06:38 central time or 04:38 Pacific):
The folks at Stardate.org have more info.
A lunar eclipse is when the Moon passes into the shadow cast by the Earth. It can be seen by anyone as long as the Moon is up and visible when it’s in the shadow. In this case, the farther west you are the better; the Moon will set before the action really gets going for people on the east coast, and sets mid-eclipse for Central and Mountain timers. If you’re in Hawaii, you can see the whole thing.
Lunar eclipses are pretty, and they last for a long time, so you can get a decent chance of seeing it. They’re also pretty easy to photograph, so if you get some images online link to ‘em in the comments and let us ooooh and ahhh over them!
Folks in Europe, Africa, and Asia can say goodbye to 2009 by viewing a very slight lunar eclipse on the last day of the year: Thursday, December 31. The event lasts for about an hour starting at 18:52 UTC, with deepest eclipse, such as it is, at 19:22.
Only a small part of the Moon will be in the deepest part of the Earth’s shadow, so this is nowhere near a total eclipse, when the Earth fully blocks sunlight from reaching the Moon. However, if you go out and take a look you’ll see the full Moon looking distinctly flattened on one side, and perhaps the rest of the Moon’s surface will look dusky. I’ve made a little image here to show you about how much the Moon will be covered, and approximately where. Like I said, only a small part will be darkened.
Not everyone will see this; North and South America are basically shut out of this event since it happens on the other side of the planet and the whole thing’s over before the Moon rises. The image of the Earth here shows where the eclipse will be visible: if you can see where you live, then you can see the eclipse. The closer you are to the center of the map, the higher the Moon will be in the sky at midpoint of the eclipse.
The next lunar eclipse visible will be in June 2010, but it’s partial and will only be visible in Australia. After that, there is a full eclipse in December 2010 which will be seen by North and South America — though the farther west you are the better as far as decent viewing times go (it’ll be around midnight for me in the Mountain time zone).
Anyway, if you want to learn about lunar eclipses (like what I mean by partial versus total, and what an umbra and penumbra are) then take a look at the Mr. Eclipse site, which has great info.
I’ll note that this last eclipse of 2009 is also a so-called Blue Moon: the unofficial term for the second full Moon in a single month. There’s no real significance to it — the Moon ain’t blue, folks, despite a bunch of news sites already posting pictures of the Moon Photoshopped to look that color without explanation. But the real thing here is that celestial geometry is putting on a small show for you, and what better way to ring in a new year?
Tip o’ the umbra to AstroPixie for reminding me about this!