Red Moon, Red Planet

by Ken Kremer on December 26, 2010

Red Moon, Red Mars. Top - Dec 21, 2010 Lunar Eclipse photos of the Red Moon taken near Princeton, NJ on an exquisitely clear night with a 250 mm lens and 1 sec exposure. Credit: Ken Kremer. Bottom Left: Red Mars from the Hubble Space Telescope. Credit: NASA. Right: Red Mars through a telescope in 2010 from The Plantation in Florida (not to scale). Credit: Ernie Rossi

In this season of Christmas tidings, many of us were blessed to witness the eerie Red Moon of the total lunar eclipse a few nights ago on Dec. 21. Here in “bonechilling” New Jersey, it was miraculously crystal clear the entire night from the beginning around 1:30 a.m. EST to the end – about three and one half hours later at around 5 a.m.

UPDATE: Check out more readers “Red Moon, Red Planet” astropix contributions below !

The eclipse occurred as the moon passed through the Earth’s inner dark shadow, or umbra and changed dramatically to varying shades of red, orange and brown.

Lunar Eclipse 12-21-2010 from The Plantation in Florida. Credit: Ernie Rossi

During totality – when the moon was completely immersed in the umbral shadow for about 72 minutes – the red moon changed from a faint red glow to a brilliant crimson red. At times it appeared to be blood red and as though the surface was stirring and oozing droplets of warm and viscous blood. It was surreal and looked to me as though it had been magically and majestically painted up into the night sky.

Well all this redness hanging in the sky during totality caused me to ponder Mars – the Red Planet – especially with the avalanche of good news streaming back lately.

And the wispy white light at near total eclipse harkened to the Martian polar ice caps.

Mars at Opposition in 2003 from New Jersey. 3.5 in Questar 0.1 seconds. Credit: Robert Vanderbei

Bright red Mars at Opposition in 2003 - The year that Spirit and Opportunity launched.

So please send your telescopic shots and descriptions of the Red Planet and/or the Red Moon and I’ll post them here. Email kremerken at yahoo dot com or post as comments to add here.

Looking up at the sky it was easy to imagine Opportunity newly arrived at the gorgeous Martian crater Santa Maria, hunting for minerals spotted from orbit that could influence the search for life, as Odyssey circles about at a record setting pace and transmits those tell tale clues back to scientists waiting on Earth.

Lunar Eclipse from New Jersey 12-21-2010. Credit: Robert Vanderbei

Despite the shadow the moon does not completely disappear. The red moon’s glow was caused by sunlight refracted through the earth’s atmosphere and cast upon the lunar surface. The hue varies depending on a variety of atmospheric conditions and can be intensified by floating clouds of volcanic ash and dust. The recent volcanic eruptions at Mount Merapi in Indonesia in October and at Mount Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland last April sent massive plumes of particles skyward which may have influenced the thrilling event.

Red Moon, Red Planet. One day we’ll journey there and back again.


Send me your astropix of Red Moon and/or Red Mars to post here:

Check out these gorgeous views of Mars in January 2010 from Efrain Morales Rivera at the Jaicoa Observatory in Aquadilla, Puerto Rico

Efrain writes; On this session (01/21/10) on Mars of this years apparition many details could be seen for its size. Image at left at closest to Earth and at the limb (L) Mount Olympus largest volcano in our system, Image at right (01/27/10) closest to the Sun. Credit: Efrain Morales Rivera, Jaicoa Observatory, Aquadilla, Puerto Rico

From Robert Vanderbei of Amateur Astronomers Association Of Princeton in New Jersey; A Lunar Eclipse Montage ! Just ahead of the monster blizzard which struck the northeast Corridor of the US on Dec 26.

Dec. 21, 2010 Lunar Eclipse Montage as imaged from New Jersey. Credit: Robert Vanderbei

Some pictures of the eclipse put together as a composite from beginning to totality by Russell King of Willingboro Astronomical Society, New Jersey.

All pictures were taken with my Canon EOS Digital Rebel XSi from my home in Neptune, New Jersey. I used my Canon 75 to 300MM lens and shot all exposures at 300MM. Camera was set on a fixed photo tripod. The pictures range from 1/2500 second at full moon to 1 second during totality. Images were processed in Photoshop 2 and Ulead. Credit: Russell King.


Dr. Ken Kremer is a speaker, scientist, freelance science journalist (Princeton, NJ) and photographer whose articles, space exploration images and Mars mosaics have appeared in magazines, books, websites and calanders including Astronomy Picture of the Day, NBC, BBC,, Spaceflight Now and the covers of Aviation Week & Space Technology, Spaceflight and the Explorers Club magazines. Ken has presented at numerous educational institutions, civic & religious organizations, museums and astronomy clubs. Ken has reported first hand from the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral and NASA Wallops on over 40 launches including 8 shuttle launches. He lectures on both Human and Robotic spaceflight - Follow Ken on Facebook and Twitter

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