Stunning Astrophoto: Moon in the Lighthouse

The March full Moon, sometimes called the “Worm Moon” for signaling the coming of spring in the northern hemisphere. This artistically stunning image taken by astrophotopher Miguel Claro is a sequence of 93 images taken at 2-minute intervals as the Moon traveled across the sky and past the Cape Espichel lighthouse near Sesimbra, Portugal. Miguel tells us that the lighthouse originally opened in 1790, and by 1865 it was powered by olive oil, changing to regular fuel in 1886, and much later by electricity by about 1926. The lighthouse measures 32 meters high and lies at an altitude of 168m above the see level. Presently, its luminous range is 20 nautical miles, about 38 km out to sea on a clear night.

Miguel used a Canon 60D – 35mm at f/4 ISO500; 1/5 sec. The sequence was taken on March 16, 2014 between 19:16 and 20:42.

Here’s a closeup:

The Cabo Espichel lighthouse near, Sesimbra, Portugal and the full Moon on March 16, 2014. Credit and copyright: Miguel Claro.
The Cabo Espichel lighthouse near, Sesimbra, Portugal and the full Moon on March 16, 2014. Credit and copyright: Miguel Claro.

See more of Miguel’s work at his website.

You can check out other recent full Moon photos and more taken by our readers at our Flickr page.

Want to get your astrophoto featured on Universe Today? Join our Flickr group or send us your images by email (this means you’re giving us permission to post them). Please explain what’s in the picture, when you took it, the equipment you used, etc.

A “MiniMoon” Seen Around the World

So, did last night’s Full Wolf Moon seem a bit tinier than usual? It was no illusion, as avid readers of Universe Today know. As we wrote earlier this week, last night’s Full Moon was the most distant for 2014, occurring just a little under three hours after apogee.

The Full Moon, a "Moon Dog" halo, and a rare parhelic (or do you say Palunic?) arc as seen from North Slope Borough County, Alaska. Credit-Jason Ahrns.
The Full Moon, a “Moon Dog” halo, and a rare parhelic (or do you say Palunic?) arc as seen from North Slope Borough County, Alaska. Credit-Jason Ahrns.

Sure, the Moon reaches apogee every lunation, at a distance nearly as far.  In fact, the Moon at apogee can be as far as 406,700 kilometres distant, and last night’s apogee, at 406,536 kilometres, is only the second farthest for 2014. The most distant apogee for 2014 falls on July 28th at 3:28 Universal Time (UT) at just 32 kilometres farther away from our fair planet at 406,568 kilometres distant.

A 20 image composite shot using a Canon 60Da camera and a a 10" Newtonian telescope. Credit-Stephen Rahn.
A 20 image composite shot using a Canon 60Da camera and a a 10″ Newtonian telescope. Credit-Stephen Rahn.

What made last night’s MiniMoon special was its close proximity in time to the instant of Full phase. The July 2014 apogee, for example, will occur just a day and four hours from New phase.

The 2014 MiniMoon rising behind clouds from Hudson, Florida. Photo by author.
The 2014 MiniMoon rising behind clouds from Hudson, Florida. Photo by author.

Of course, it isn’t the Moon that’s doing the shrinking, though you’d be surprised the stuff we’ve seen around ye ole Web even on reputable news sites over the past week. The variation of the apparent size of the Full Moon does make for an interesting study in perception. The Moon varies in size from apogee to perigee from about 29.3’ across to 34.1’. This is variation amounts to 14% in apparent diameter.

The Full MiniMoon, clouds, and Jupiter. Credit- Shaun Reynolds, Bungay UK.
The Full MiniMoon, clouds, and Jupiter. Credit– Shaun Reynolds (@shaunreylec), Bungay UK.

Here’s an interesting challenge that you can do for a one year period, requiring just a working set of eyes: observe the Full Moon for 12 successive lunations. Can you judge which one was the “SuperMoon” and which one was the “MiniMoon” without prior knowledge?

A "MiniMoon Nebula..." The Full Moon illuminating foreground clouds. The HDR visualization of the Moon was added for context. Taken with a tripod mounted Nikon P90 Bridge camera. Credit: Giuseppe Petricca of Sulmona, Abruzzo, Italy.
A “MiniMoon Nebula…” The Full Moon illuminating foreground clouds. The HDR visualization of the Moon was added for context. Taken with a tripod mounted Nikon P90 Bridge camera. Credit: Giuseppe Petricca of Sulmona, Abruzzo, Italy.

And as you can see, we also got plenty of pictures here at Universe Today from readers of the Mini-Moon from worldwide.

The MiniMoon shot using a mobile phone held up to the eyepeice of a telescope. Credit-Andrew Millarkie (@Millarkie)
The MiniMoon shot using a mobile phone held up to the eyepiece of a telescope. Credit-Andrew Millarkie (@Millarkie) Glasgow, Scotland.

The rare occurrence of an “Extreme-MiniMoon” — or do you say “Ultra?” — also sparked a lively discussion about the motion of the Moon, how rare this event is, and when it was last and will next be surpassed. A fun online tool to play with is Fourmilab’s Lunar Apogee and Perigee Calculator. Keep in mind, the motion of the Moon is complex, and accuracy for most planetarium programs tends to subside a bit as you look back or forward in time. The distances used in Fourmilab’s calculations are also geocentric, accounting for the center-to-center distance of the Earth-Moon system.

The MiniMoon versus streetlights as seen from Nueva Casarapa, Venezulua. Credit: Jose Mauricio Rozada (@jmrozada)
The MiniMoon versus streetlights as seen from Nueva Casarapa, Venezuela. Credit: Jose Mauricio Rozada (@jmrozada)

Suffice to say, this year’s Full MiniMoon was the most distant for several decades before 2014 or after.

Anthony Cook of the Griffith Observatory notes that JPL’s Horizons web interface gives a max distance for the Moon of 406,533 kilometres at 1:35 UT earlier today, 3 hours and 19 minutes prior to Full.

The Full MiniMoon glimpsed between clouds as seen from central Illinois. Credit-Matt Comerford, (@kb9uwu)
The Full MiniMoon glimpsed between clouds as seen from central Illinois. Credit-Matt Comerford, (@kb9uwu)

The next closest spread of apogee versus perigee occurs on November 18th, 1994 at 1 hour and 51 minutes apart, and 2014’s Mini-Moon won’t be surpassed in this regard until May 13th, 2052. Looking at the distances for the Moon on these dates using Starry Night, however, we get an slightly closer occurrence of 406,345 kilometres for 1994 and 406,246 kilometres for 2052.

The Full MiniMoon rising behind a stand of trees. Credit- Sculptor Lil.
The Full MiniMoon rising behind a stand of trees. Credit– Sculptor Lil.

And to top it off, the 1994 Mini-Moon was during a partial penumbral eclipse as well… we’ll leave that as a homework assignment for the astute readers of Universe Today to calculate how often THAT occurs. It should be fairly frequent over the span of a century, as the Moon has to be at Full phase for a total lunar eclipse to occur.

The MiniMoon as captured by Manish Agarwal from Rajasthan, India.
The MiniMoon as captured by Manish Agarwal (@iManishAgarwal) from Rajasthan, India.

Looking over a larger span of time, @blobrana notes on Twitter that closer occurrences of apogee versus Full Moon with the same approximate circumstances as 2014 also occurred on October 29th 817 AD (with a 1 hour and 38 minute difference) and won’t occur again until December 20th, 2154. If research can prove or disprove that these events were even more distant, then the 2014 Extreme MiniMoon was a millennial rarity indeed…

Perhaps this won’t be the last we’ve heard on the subject!

Tonight’s Harvest Moon Is For The Birds … Really!

Tonight’s the Harvest Moon, the full Moon closest to the fall equinox. A perfect time to catch a big orange Moon on the horizon AND the annual fall bird migration. Every September and October anyone with a small telescope or spotting scope magnifying 30x can enjoy the sight of one bird after another flying over the cratered lunar landscape. It’s so easy.

Point your telescope at the Moon and watch for dark silhouettes to flutter across its face. Because the angle of the full Moon’s path to the horizon is very shallow in September and October, the time difference between successive moonrises is only about 20-30 minutes instead of the usual 50-60. That means you’ll catch both moonlight and bird flight on successive nights without having to stay up late.

The Harvest Moon rises over Lake Superior in Duluth, Minn. When you’re out enjoying this year’s full moon on Wednesday and Thursday nights, watch for the dark band you see in the photo. That’s the Earth’s shadow. It’s visible for about 15-20 after sunset and topped by the pink-tinged Belt of Venus, where the atmosphere is still reflecting reddened sunlight. Credit: Bob King
The Harvest Moon rises over Lake Superior in Duluth, Minn last September. When you’re out moon and birdwatching, look for the dark band below the rising moon. That’s the Earth’s shadow. It’s visible for about 15-20 after sunset and topped by the pink-tinged “Belt of Venus”, where the atmosphere is still reflecting reddened sunlight. Credit: Bob King

Many birds migrate at night both because it’s cooler and to avoid predators that could otherwise pick them off in a daylight run. Identifying the many warblers, blackbirds, sparrows, vireos, orioles and other species that fly across the moon while we sleep may be next to impossible for anyone but an expert, but seeing them is easy.  Two night ago for fun, I counted a dozen birds in the five-minute interval around 10 o’clock through my 10-inch telescope at low power (76x). Assuming they continued to fly by at a steady rate, I could potentially have spotted 144 birds in just an hour’s time.

Two of my favorite migrating birds: the winter wren (left) and chestnut-sided warbler. Credit: Bob King
Two of my favorite migrating birds: the winter wren (left) and chestnut-sided warbler. Credit: Bob King

As you might suspect, most of those birds crossed the Moon from north to south (about two-thirds) with the other third traveling either east to west or northeast to southwest. Only one little silhouette flapped back up north in the ‘wrong’ direction.

According to the Chipper Woods Bird Observatory, located in Indianapolis, most nighttime migrators begin their flight right after sunset and continue until about 2 a.m. Peak time is between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m. Bird typically migrate at altitudes ranging from 1,500 to 5,000 feet, but on some nights, altitudes may range from 6,000 and 9,000 feet. I could tell the high ones from the low ones by their size and sharpness. Nearby birds flew by out of focus, while distant ones were sharply defined and took longer to cross the moon.

Check out this animated wave of bird migration after sunset on Aug. 27, 2013 made with NEXRAD. Birds are visible funneling down both shores of Lake Superior and moving south of Duluth, Minn (city at center). Credit: NWS
Check out this animation showing a wave of bird migration after sunset on Aug. 27 made with NEXRAD. Birds are visible funneling down both shores of Lake Superior and moving south of Duluth, Minn (city at center). Credit: NWS

While birders may continue to use the moon night birding, they now have a new tool – NEXRAD or NEXt-generation of Weather RADar. About 150 NEXRAD sites were set up in the 1990s to track weather and storm systems across the U.S. When precipitation gets pinged by the radar’s pulse it reflects back a signal that identifies it as rain, snow or whatever. Included in the information is the material’s speed and direction of travel. NEXRAD works equally well on meteorite falls, birds and even insects. While storm activity typically shows up as familiar blotches of yellow, orange and red, birds appear as fine stipplings.  By compiling NEXRAD loops, during particularly heavy migration times, you can actually watch swarms of birds wing their way south. Click HERE for a map of all U.S. NEXRAD locations, each of which links to current radar maps.

On the less technological side, watching birds pass across the Moon in a small telescope is a very pleasant activity reminiscent of meteor shower watching. At first you see nothing, then blip! a bird (meteor) flies by. You wait another minute and then suddenly two more appear in tandem.  Both activities give you that delicious sense of anticipation of what the next moment might hold.

The best time to watch the nighttime avian exodus is around full Moon, when the big, round disk offers an ideal spotlight on the birds’ behavior, but anytime between waxing and waning gibbous phase will work. It’s an enchanting sight to see Earth’s creatures streak across an alien landscape, and another instance of how a distant celestial body “touches” Earth in unexpected ways.

What is a Super Moon?

It’s a bird, it’s a plane it’s…

OK, it’s a bad gag, I know. But the movie Man of Steel isn’t the only thing that’s “super” about June this year. The closest full Moon of 2013 occurs on June 23, when it will be 356,991 kilometres from Earth, within 600 kilometres of its closest possible approach. When the Moon is closest to Earth in its orbit, it also appears just a bit larger in the sky. But that’s if you’re really paying attention, however!

Some claims circulating on the Internet tend to exaggerate how large the Moon will actually appear. And as for the assertions that the Moon will look bright purple or blue on June 23, that’s just not true. As seems to happen every year, the term “supermoon” has once again reared its (ugly?) head across ye ole Internet. Hey, it’s a teachable moment, a good time to look at where the term came from, and examine the wonderful and wacky motion of our Moon.

I’ll let you in on a small secret. Most astronomers, both of the professional and backyard variety, dislike the informal term “supermoon”. It arose in astrology circles over the past few decades, and like the term “Blue Moon” seems to have found new life on the Internet.  A better term from the annuals of astronomy for the near-coincidence of the closest approach of the Full Moon would be Perigee Full Moon. And if you really want to be archaic, Proxigean Moon is also acceptable.

On June 23, 2013, the Moon will be full at 7:32 AM EDT/ 11:32 UT, only 20 minutes after it reaches perigee, or its closest point to Earth in its orbit.

You can see the change in apparent size of the Moon (along with a rocking motion of the Moon known as nutation and libration) in this video from the Goddard Space Flight Center’s Scientific Visualization Studio. You can also see full animations for Moon phases and libration for 2013 from the northern hemisphere and southern hemisphere.

And all perigees are not created equal, either. Remember, a Full Moon is an instant in time when the Moon’s longitude along the ecliptic is equal to 180 degrees. Thus, the Full Moon rises (unless you’re reading this from high polar latitudes!) opposite as the Sun sets. Perigee also oscillates over a value of just over 2 Earth radii (14,000 km) from 356,400 to 370,400 km. And while that seems like a lot, remember that the average distance to the Moon is about 60 earth radii, or 385,000 km distant.

Astronomers yearn for kryptonite for the supermoon. The Moon passes nearly as close every 27.55 days, which is the time that it takes to go from one perigee to another, known as an anomalistic month. This is not quite two days shorter than the more familiar synodic month of 29.53 days, the amount of time it takes the Moon to return to similar phase (i.e. New to New, Full to Full, etc).

This offset may not sound like much, but 2 days can add up. Thus, in six months time, we’ll have perigee near New phase and the smallest apogee Full Moon of the year, falling in 2013 on December 19th. Think of the synodic and anomalistic periods like a set of interlocking waves, cycling and syncing every 6-7 months.

You can even see this effect looking a table of supermoons for the next decade;

Super Moons for the Remainder of the Decade 2013-2020.

Year

Date

Perigee Time

Perigee Distance

Time from Full

Notes

2013

June 23

11:11UT

356,989km

< 1 hour

2013

July 21

20:28UT

358,401km

-21 hours

2014

July 13

8:28UT

358,285km

+21 hours

2014

August 10

17:44UT

356,896km

< 1 hour

2014

September 8

3:30UT

358,387km

-22 hours

2015

August 30

15:25UT

358,288km

         +20 hours

2015

September 28

1:47UT

356,876km

-1 hour

Eclipse

2015

October 26

13:00UT

358,463km

-23 hours

2016

October 16

23:37UT

357,859km

+19 hours

Farthest

2016

November 14

11:24UT

356,511km

-2 hours

Closest

2017

December 4

8:43UT

357,495km

+16 hours

2018

January 1

21:56UT

356,565km

-4 hours

2019

January 21

19:59UT

357,344km

+14 hours

Eclipse

2019

February 19

9:07UT

356,761km

-6 hours

2020

March 10

6:34UT

357,122km

+12 hours

2020

April 7

18:10UT

356,908km

-8 hours

Sources: The fourmilab Lunar Perigee & Apogee Calculator & NASA’s Eclipse Website 2011-2020.Note: For the sake of this discussion, a supermoon is defined here as a Full Moon occurring within 24 hours of perigee. Other (often arbitrary) definitions exist!

Note that the supermoon slowly slides through our modern Gregorian calendar by roughly a month a year.

In fact, the line of apsides (an imaginary line drawn bisecting the Moon’s orbit from perigee to apogee) completes one revolution every 8.85 years. Thus, in 2022, the supermoon will once again occur in the June-July timeframe.

To understand why this is, we have to look at another unique feature of the Moon’s orbit. Unlike most satellites, the Moon’s orbit isn’t fixed in relation to its primaries’ (in this case the Earth’s) equator. Earth rotational pole is tilted 23.4 degrees in relation to the plane of its orbit (known as the ecliptic), and the Moon’s orbit is set at an inclination of 5.1 degrees relative to the ecliptic. In this sense, the Earth-Moon system behaves like a binary planet, revolving around a fixed barycenter.

The two points where the Moon’s path intersects the ecliptic are known as the ascending and descending nodes. These move around the ecliptic as well, lining up (known as a syzygy) during two seasons a year to cause lunar and solar eclipses.

The complex motion of the Moon, depicting the precession of the nodes versus the average movement of the line of apsides. (Credit: Geologician, Homunculus 2. Wikimedia Commons graphic  under a Creative Common Attribution 3.0 Unported license).
The complex motion of the Moon, depicting the movement of the nodes versus the average movement of the line of apsides. (Credit: Geologician, Homunculus 2. Wikimedia Commons graphic under a Creative Common Attribution 3.0 Unported license).

But our friend the line of apsides is being dragged backwards relative to the motion of the nodes, largely by the influence of our Sun. Not only does this cause the supermoons to shift through the calendar, but the Moon can also ride ‘high’ with a declination of around +/-28 degrees relative to the celestial equator once every 19 years, as happened in 2006 and will occur again in 2025.

Falling only two days after the solstice, this month’s supermoon is also near where the Sun will be in December and thus will also be the most southerly Full Moon of 2013. Visually, the Full Moon only varies 14% in apparent diameter from 34.1’ (perigee) to 29.3’ (apogee).

Can you see the difference? A side by side comparison of the perigee and apogee Moon. (Credit: Inconstant Moon).
Can you see the difference? A side by side comparison of the perigee and apogee Moon. (Credit: Inconstant Moon).

A fun experiment is to photograph the perigee Moon this month and then take an image with the same setup six months later when the Full Moon is near apogee. Another feat of visual athletics would be to attempt to visually judge the Full Moons throughout a given year. Which one do you think is largest & smallest? Can you discern the difference with the naked eye? Of course, you’d also have to somehow manage to insulate yourself from all the supermoon hype!

A comparison of the rising Moon (left) & the Full Moon high in the sky... as you can see, atmospheric refraction actually tends to "shrink" the apparent size of a rising Moon! (Credit:
A comparison of the rising Moon (left) & the Full Moon high in the sky… as you can see, atmospheric refraction actually tends to “shrink” the apparent size of a rising Moon! (Credit & Copyright: Richard Fleet (@dewbow) The Moon Illusion). 

Many folks also fall prey to the rising “Moon Illusion.” The Moon isn’t visually any bigger on the horizon than overhead. In fact, you’re about one Earth radii closer to the Moon when it’s at the zenith than on the horizon. This phenomenon is a psychological variant of the Ponzo illusion.

The supermoon of March 19, 2011 (right), compared to an average moon of December 20, 2010 (left). Note the size difference. Image Credit: Marco Langbroek, the Netherlands, via Wikimedia Commons.
The supermoon of March 19, 2011 (right), compared to an average moon of December 20, 2010 (left). Note the size difference. Image Credit: Marco Langbroek, the Netherlands, via Wikimedia Commons.

Here are some of the things that even a supermoon can’t do, but we’ve actually heard claims for:

–      Be physically larger. You’re just seeing the regular-sized Moon, a tiny bit closer.

–      Cause Earthquakes. Yes, we can expect higher-than-normal Proxigean ocean tides, and there are measurable land tides that are influenced by the Moon, but no discernible link between the Moon and earthquakes exists. And yes, we know of the 2003 Taiwanese study that suggested a weak statistical correlation. And predicting an Earthquake after it has occurred, (as happened after the 2011 New Zealand quake) isn’t really forecasting, but a skeptical fallacy known as retrofitting.

–      Influence human behavior. Well, maybe the 2013 Full Moon will make some deep sky imagers pack it in on Sunday night. Lunar lore is full of such anecdotes as more babies are born on Full Moon nights, crime increases, etc. This is an example the gambler’s fallacy, a matter of counting the hits but not the misses. There’s even an old wives tale that pregnancy can be induced by sleeping in the light of a Full Moon. Yes, we too can think of more likely explanations…

–      Spark a zombie apocalypse. Any would-be zombies sighted (Rob Zombie included) during the supermoon are merely coincidental.

Do get out and enjoy the extra illumination provided by this and any other Full Moon, super or otherwise. Also, be thankful that we’ve got a large nearby satellite to give our species a great lesson in celestial mechanics 101!

Astrophotos: The Full Snow Moon

In Native American lore, the full Moon in February is called the Snow Moon, as this time of year usually signals the deepest snows of winter in the now cold northern latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere. This year, the full moon fell on February 25th and here are a few images shared by our readers. Above is a classic view of a winter evening in the north — especially where I used to live in Minnesota, but also where Rick Stankiewicz lives in Ontario, Canada.

“I was fishing for walleye with some friends on the Bay of Quinte (Lake Ontario) near Belleville, Ontario,” Rick wrote, “and I was fortunate to be in an opportune location to see the Moon rising in the eastern sky. “A pale pastel pink disc appeared initially, but as the minutes wore on and the lunar disk rose higher above the horizon it grew brighter and transformed from pink, then red, then orange as it evaded more and more of the earth’s atmosphere along the horizon. What a wonderful sight and this made the whole trip worth the effort. Our fishing party caught one nice fish this trip but the rising of the Snow Moon was the ‘icing on the cake’ for me.”

A beautiful shot too!

See more below:

Planet Moon? A panoramic view from Östersund, Sweden. Credit and copyright:  Göran Strand
Planet Moon? A panoramic view from Östersund, Sweden. Credit and copyright: Göran Strand

Here’s a fun panoramic view of the full Moon, which seemingly creates a little snow covered planet with the full Moon in the sky. This was sent in by Göran Strand from Sweden: “I wanted to catch the Moon in a snowy environment,” Göran wrote, “so me and my friend went out on Storsjöns snow-covered ice here in Östersund, Sweden….As a bonus, a light mist came in over the lake just as we arrived.”

The full Snow Moon on 02-25-2013 as seen from  Dayton, Ohio USA. Credit and copyright: John Chumack.
The full Snow Moon on 02-25-2013 as seen from
Dayton, Ohio USA. Credit and copyright: John Chumack.

Our pal John Chumack can always be counted on for a great view of the full Moon! You can see more of his images at his Flickr page or his website, Galactic Images.

The Moon partially hidden by tree branches, taken on February 25, 2013. Credit and copyright: Carolyn Postelwait.
The Moon partially hidden by tree branches, taken on February 25, 2013. Credit and copyright: Carolyn Postelwait.
The February 2013 full Moon as seen in Michigan, USA. Credit and copyright: Kevin (Kevin's Stuff on Flickr.)
The February 2013 full Moon as seen in Michigan, USA. Credit and copyright: Kevin (Kevin’s Stuff on Flickr.)
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[caption id="attachment_100297" align="aligncenter" width="580"]The full Moon as seen in Japan on Feb. 25, 2013. Credit and copyright: Masashi Ito. The full Moon as seen in Japan on Feb. 25, 2013. Credit and copyright: Masashi Ito.

Want to get your astrophoto featured on Universe Today? Join our Flickr group or send us your images by email (this means you’re giving us permission to post them). Please explain what’s in the picture, when you took it, the equipment you used, etc.

Watch a Magical Moonrise

This is absolutely lovely. Photographer Mark Gee says this incredible real-time video “is as it came off the memory card and there has been no manipulation whatsoever.” It shows the full Moon rising over the Mount Victoria Lookout in Wellington, New Zealand.

“People had gathered up there this night to get the best view possible of the moon rising,” Gee wrote on Vimeo. “I captured the video from 2.1km away on the other side of the city. It’s something that I’ve been wanting to photograph for a long time now, and a lot of planning and failed attempts had taken place. Finally, during moon rise on the 28th January 2013, everything fell into place and I got my footage.”

While Gee said it was a challenge to shoot, the final result is stunning.

Full Moon Silhouettes from Mark Gee on Vimeo.

The ‘Bonus’ Full Moon of 2012

The Moon and Jupiter above the dishes in Canberra, Australia. Credit: Carlos Orue.

The full Moon today is considered a bonus for 2012, since it is the 13th full Moon of the year. But this full Moon has also been a bonus in the sense that we’re getting several nights in a row of nearly full Moons. According to Universe Today’s Phases of the Moon App, the face of the Moon on the night of the 25th was 96% illuminated; on the 26th it was 99% illuminated; the night of the 27th/morning of the 28th was the full Moon, (officially, the Moon was most full at 10:21 UTC (4:21 EST this morning), and tonight, the 28th, the face of the Moon is again 99% illuminated. And if you’re enjoying a wintery landscape like I currently am, the brilliance of the Moonlight on snow is bright enough to keep you awake at night.

Enjoy some great astrophotos submitted for photographers around the world of the bonus — and final — full Moon of 2012.

full moon kevin

The last full Moon of 2012 — the Full Cold Moon, as seen from the James C. Veen Observatory near Lowell, Michigan. Credit: Kevin on Flickr.

full moon nukleer

The last full moon of the year as seen from the Middle Eastern Technical University Physics department in Ankara, Turkey. Credit: Nükleer Kedi

full moon henna

Full Moon of December. Credit: Henna Khan

full moon lil

Full Moon, December 27, 2012 from London, England. Credit: Sculptor Lil.

full moon andrei

The Third Day of Christmas Moon. Credit: Andrei Juravle

full moon zamboni

Closeup of Tycho Crater on Dec. 23, 2012. Credit: Fred Locklear

full moon Cesar

Closeup of the Moon on Dec. 26, 2012. Credit: César Cantú

Want to get your astrophoto featured on Universe Today? Join our Flickr group or send us your images by email (this means you’re giving us permission to post them). Please explain what’s in the picture, when you took it, the equipment you used, etc.

Big Full Moon and Mars Put on a Show Friday Night

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If your skies are clear on Friday night, January 29, 2010, take advantage of one of the skywatching highlights of the year. A full Moon and Mars will be putting on a show, and the pair will be prominently close to each other in the sky. Plus, this Friday night’s full Moon is the biggest and brightest full Moon of the year. It’s a “perigee Moon,” as much as 14% wider and 30% brighter than other full Moons you’ll see later in 2010, according to Spaceweather.com. And, even though you’ve likely not gotten an email from an excited acquaintance relaying that Mars is really close to the Earth now — that is the case. Mars is at opposition on the 29th, which means it lines up opposite the Sun and is now the closest to Earth their orbits, and so will shine brighter.

The image above of the not-quite-full Moon from January 27, 2010 is shared by Universe Today reader Alan Walters, from Florida. You can see more of his wonderful photography of the night sky, launches and shuttle landings, Florida wildlife and more at Alan Walters Photography.

Positions of the Moon and Mars. Credit: McDonald Observatory

This image, courtesy of Stardate Online and the McDonald Observatory, shows the positions of the Moon and Mars in the night sky the next few evenings.

This is not a great opposition for Mars because it occurs around the time that Earth is closest to the Sun and Mars is farthest. The gap between the two planets will be a hefty 62 million miles (99 million km). The smallest possible distance at opposition is about 35 million miles (56 million km), which happened a back in August of 2003, and prompted the infamous emails that now surface every August, that Mars would be as big the full Moon, which of course, is not — and was not — true. Mars appeared more than twice as bright then as it will this year, but was still a star-like dot in the sky.

JPL is sponsoring a Facebook Event, Friday Night With the Moon and Mars, to heighten awareness of what a great sight it will be; plus its a great way to share in the experience with others online.

And for more information, see this [email protected] article about the close encounter.

Sources: Stardate, Spaceweather.com

Blood Moon



A blood moon is the first full moon after a harvest moon, which is the full moon closest to the fall equinox. Another name for a blood moon is a hunter’s moon.

Before the advent of electricity, farmers used the light of the full moons to get work done. The harvest moon was a time they could dedicate to bringing in their fall harvest. And so a month later is the blood moon, or the hunter’s moon. This was a good time for hunters to shoot migrating birds in Europe, or track prey at night to stockpile food for Winter.

A full moon occurs every 29.5 days, so a blood moon occurs about a month after the harvest moon. A blood moon is just a regular full moon. It doesn’t appear any brighter or redder than any other full moon. The distance between the Earth and the Moon can change over the course of the month. When the moon is at its closest, a full moon can appear 10% larger and 30% brighter than when it’s further away from the Earth.

A blood moon will actually turn red when it matches up with a lunar eclipse. These occur about twice a year, so blood moons match up with lunar eclipses about every 6 years or so. At the time of this writing, the next blood moon lunar eclipse will be in 2015.

We’ve written many articles about the Moon for Universe Today. Here’s an article about the discovery of water on the Moon, and here’s an article about a lava tube on the Moon.

If you’d like more info on the Moon, check out NASA’s Solar System Exploration Guide on the Moon, and here’s a link to NASA’s Lunar and Planetary Science page.

We’ve also done several episodes of Astronomy Cast about the Moon. Here’s a good one, Episode 17: Where Does the Moon Come From?

What is a Blue Moon?

 

A lunar month takes 29.53 days. This is the amount of time it takes for the Moon to complete a cycle through all the phases, from new moon to full moon and then back to new moon again. This is very close to the length of a month in the Western calendar, which usually have 30 or 31 days. Every month usually has one of each of the phases. So a typical month will have a new moon, first quarter, full moon and last quarter moon. But every now and then, a month will have two of the same phases. When a month has two full moons, the second one is called a “blue moon”.

Blue moons are rare, and that’s where the phrase comes from, “once in a blue moon”. How rare? They always happen once every 2-3 years (2.72 years, to be exact). It’s this second moon in the month that’s considered the blue moon.

Does the blue moon actually turn blue? No. A blue moon is exactly the same color as a regular full moon – yellow.

The Moon can turn blue when there’s a certain amount of dust or pollution in the air. The extra dust scatters blue light, making the Moon appear more blue. For example, the Moon appeared blue across the entire Earth for about 2 years after the eruption of Krakatoa in 1883.

Here is a list of upcoming blue moons:

  • 2018: January 2, January 31st
  • 2018: March 2, March 31st
  • 2020: October 1, October 31st

 

We have an article here on Universe Today about all the phases of the Moon.

Here’s an article from NASA about blue moons.

You can listen to a very interesting podcast about the formation of the Moon from Astronomy Cast, Episode 17: Where Did the Moon Come From?