Here Are Some Amazing Pictures of the January 2018 Lunar Eclipse

On Wednesday, January 31st (i.e. today!), a spectacular celestial event occurred. For those who live in the western part of North America, Alaska, and the Hawaiian islands, it was visible in the wee hours of the morning – and some people were disciplined enough to roll out of bed to see it! This was none other than the highly-anticipated “Super Blue Moon“, a rare type of full moon that on this occasion was special for a number of reasons.

For one, it was the third in a series of “supermoons”, where a Full Moon coincides with the Moon being closer in its orbit to Earth (aka. perigee) and thus appears larger. It was also the second full moon of the month, which is  otherwise known as a “Blue Moon“. Lastly, for those in right locations, the Moon also passed through the Earth’s shadow, giving it a reddish tint (known as a “Red Moon” or “Blood Moon”).

The super blue moon, taken by Kevin Gill in Los Angeles, CA, with a Canon EOS 60D mounted on a Celestron NexStar 6se. Credit: @apoapsys

In short, you could say that what was occurred this morning was a “super blue blood moon.” And as you can see, some truly awesome pictures were taken of this celestial event from all over the world. Here is a collection of pictures that a number of skilled photographers and star gazers have chosen to share with us. Enjoy!

A collage of images showing the transition of the super blue moon, taken by Braden Ottenbreit of Saskatchewan, Canada. Credit: @bradenottenbreit
Long exposure photo of the super blue moon, taken by Marc Leatham in Cypress, CA. Credit: @marcleatham
Early morning photo snapped outside of Pucklechurch, Bristol, by photographer Tim Graham. Credit: @timgrahamphotorgraphy
The lunar eclipse captured in Shiraz, Iran, by Alireza Nadimi using a Nikon D610A – Sigma 120-400 Apo. Credit: @ar.nadimi
The phases of the lunar eclipse of the Super Blue Blood Moon, taken by astrophographer Rami Ammoun. Credit: @rami_ammoun
Super blue moon taken by Bray Falls in Arizona. Credit: @astrofalls
The super blue moon, as photographed from Los Angeles by Tom Masterson using a Tamron 150-600mm and Canon 6D Hutech UV/IR mod. Credit: @transientastro
A long-exposure shot of the super blue moon above San Francisco by Taylor Meehan. Credit: @tm18210
Composite image showing the sequence of the eclipse, as seen from downtown Houston. Credit: @sergiorill
A composite of the phases of our super blue moon lunar eclipse. Credit: @jeffycan

“Thanks to everyone who used the #universetoday hashtag on Instagram to let us know about your pictures. There are many many more in there, so check it out.”

Gorgeous Images of the August 2017 Partial Lunar Eclipse

Just to get you in the mood for the upcoming total solar eclipse — now less than two weeks away — our Solar System put on a little eclipse display of the lunar kind on August 7. The full Moon passed through part of the Earth’s umbral shadow, and the timing made this partial lunar eclipse visible in parts of Europe and Africa.

Thanks to our friends around the world who posted in Universe Today’s Flickr page, we’ve got images to share! Enjoy the views! Click on all the images to see larger versions of them on Flickr. The lead image link is here.

And for those of you in the path of the August 21 solar eclipse, please feel free to share your images on our Flickr page, and we may feature them in an upcoming article.

A composite of images take during the August 2017 lunar eclipse, as see from Kuala Lumpur. Credit and copyright: Shahrin Ahmad.
Partial lunar eclipse seen from Lausanne’s lakeshore in Switzerland … The Moon had just moved up from behind the Tour d’Aï Peaks. Credit and copyright: Hicham Dennaoui.
Partial Eclipse of Moon over the Church of Our Lady of the Bell in Casarano, Sicily, Italy. Single photo taken with a Konus 80/400 telescope and Canon 700d camera. Credit and copyright: Gianluca Belgrado.

Eclipsed full moon over the eastern horizon as seen from Treppendorf, Brandenburg, Germany. Credit and copyright: Andreas Schnabel.
Partial lunar eclipse of August 7th 2017, as seen from Bavaria, Germany at around 19:17 UTC. Shot with an EOS 550D mounted to a Meade ETX 70 Telescope. Exposure was 1/125 seconds with ISO 100. Credit and copyright:
Stephan Haverland.
The partial lunar eclipse as see from Czolpino, Pomerania, Poland. Credit and copyright:
Pawel Warchal.
A view of the partial lunar eclipse on August 7, 2017 as seen from Malta in the Mediterranean Sea. Credit and copyright: Leonard Ellul-Mercer.

Here is a video of additional images from Leonard Mercer:

You can watch a reply of a live webcast from the Virtual Telescope Project of the partial lunar eclipse seen from Rome:

Weekly Space Hangout – February 10, 2017: Weekend Eclipse, Occultation and Comet 45P!

Host: Fraser Cain (@fcain)

Guests:

Paul M. Sutter (pmsutter.com / @PaulMattSutter)
Morgan Rehnberg (MorganRehnberg.com / @MorganRehnberg)
Dave Dickinson (www.astroguyz.com / @astroguyz)

Their stories this week:

Comet 45P Flies Past Earth

A new “kind” of black hole

A Penumbral Lunar Eclipse

The Moon Occults Regulus

Mars didn’t have enough CO2 to sustain liquid water

ISS is getting a commercial airlock

We use a tool called Trello to submit and vote on stories we would like to see covered each week, and then Fraser will be selecting the stories from there. Here is the link to the Trello WSH page (http://bit.ly/WSHVote), which you can see without logging in. If you’d like to vote, just create a login and help us decide what to cover!

If you would like to join the Weekly Space Hangout Crew, visit their site here and sign up. They’re a great team who can help you join our online discussions!

If you would like to sign up for the AstronomyCast Solar Eclipse Escape, where you can meet Fraser and Pamela, plus WSH Crew and other fans, visit our site linked above and sign up!

We record the Weekly Space Hangout every Friday at 12:00 pm Pacific / 3:00 pm Eastern. You can watch us live on Universe Today, or the Universe Today YouTube page<

Watch the Moon Make a Pass at Earth’s Shadow, Then Kiss Regulus This Valentine’s Weekend

Regulus Occultion
Regulus Occultion
The Moon occults Regulus of January 15th, 2017. Image credit and copyright: Lucca Ruggiero

In the southern hemisphere this weekend in the ‘Land of Oz?’ Are you missing out on the passage of Comet 45/P Honda-Mrkos-Pajdušáková, and the penumbral lunar eclipse? Fear not, there’s an astronomical event designed just for you, as the Moon occults (passes in front of) the bright star Regulus on the evening of Saturday, January 11th.

The entire event is custom made for the continent of Australia and New Zealand, occurring under dark skies. Now for the bad news: the waning gibbous Moon will be less than 14 hours past Full during the event, meaning that the ingress (disappearance) of Regulus will occur along its bright leading limb and egress (reappearance) will occur on the dark limb. We prefer occultations during waxing phase, as the star winks out on the dark limb and seems to slowly fade back in on the bright limb.

The footprint for the February 11th occultation of Regulus by the Moon. Image credit: Occult 4.2 software

The International Occultation Timing Association has a complete list of precise ingress/egress times for cities located across the continent. An especially interesting region to catch the event lies along the northern graze line across the sparsely populated Cape York peninsula, just north of Cairns.

The northern grazeline for the February 11th occultation of Regulus by the Moon. Graphic by author.

The Moon occults Aldebaran and then Regulus six days later during every lunation in 2017. This is occultation number three in a cycle of 19 running from December 18, 2016 to April 24, 2018. The Moon occults Regulus 214 times in the 21st century, and Regulus is currently the closest bright star to the ecliptic plane, just 27′ away.

We’ve also got a very special event just under 14 hours prior, as a penumbral lunar eclipse occurs, visible on all continents… except Australia. Mid-eclipse occurs at 00:45 Universal Time (UT, Saturday morning on February 11th), or 7:45 PM Eastern Standard Time (EST) on the evening of Friday, February 10th, when observers may note a dusky shading on the northern limb of the Moon as the Moon just misses passing through the dark edge of the Earth’s inner umbral shadow. Regulus will sit less than seven degrees off of the lunar limb at mid-eclipse Friday night.

How often does an eclipsed Moon occult a bright star? Well, stick around until over four centuries from now on February 22nd, 2445, and observers based around the Indian Ocean region can watch just such an event, as the eclipsed Moon also occults Regulus. Let’s see, I should have my consciousness downloaded into my second android body by then…

A graphic study of the simultaneous lunar eclipse and occultation of Regulus in 2445. Credit: NASA/GSFC/Fred Espenak/Occult 4.2/Stellarium.

We’ll be streaming the Friday night eclipse live from Astroguyz HQ here in Spring Hill, Florida starting at 7:30 PM EST/00:30 UT, wifi-willing. Astronomer Gianluca Masi of the Virtual Telescope Project will also carry the eclipse live starting at 22:15 UT on the night of Friday, February 10th.

This eclipse also marks the start of eclipse season one of two, which climaxes with an annular eclipse crossing southern Africa and South America on February 26th. The second and final eclipse season of 2017 starts with a partial lunar eclipse on August 7th, which sets us up for the Great American Eclipse crossing the United States from coast to coast on August 21st, 2017.

A lunar occultation of Regulus also provides a shot at a unique scientific opportunity. Spectroscopic measurements suggest that the primary main sequence star possesses a small white dwarf companion, a partner which has never been directly observed. This unseen white dwarf may – depending on the unknown orientation of its orbit – make a brief appearance during ingress or egress for a fleeting split second, when the dark limb of the Moon has covered dazzling Regulus. High speed video might just nab a double step occlusion, as the white dwarf companion is probably about 10,000 times fainter than Regulus at magnitude +11 at the very brightest. Regulus is located 79 light years distant.

Our best results for capturing an occultation of a star or planet by the Moon have always been with a video camera aimed straight through our 8” Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope. The trick is always to keep the star visible in the frame near the brilliant Full Moon. Cropping the Moon out of the field as much as possible can help somewhat. Set up early, to work the bugs out of focusing, alignment, etc. We also run WWV radio in the background for an audible time hack on the video.

The January 15th, 2017 occultation of Regulus by the Moon. Image credit and copyright: Lucca Ruggiero.

The best occultation of Regulus by the Moon for North America in 2017 occurs on October 15th, when the Moon is at waning crescent phase. Unfortunately, the occultation of Regulus by asteroid 163 Erigone back in 2014 was clouded out, though the planet Venus occults the star on October 1st, 2044. Let’s see, by then I’ll be…

Comets and eclipses and occultations, oh my. It’s a busy weekend for observational astronomy, for sure. Consider it an early Valentine’s Day weekend gift from the Universe.

Webcasting the eclipse or the occultation this weekend? Let us know, and send those images of either event to Universe Today’s Flickr forum.

Read about eclipses, occultations and more tales of astronomy in our yearly guide 101 Astronomical Events For 2017, free from Universe Today.

What is a Total Eclipse?

Imagine if you will, that you are a human being living in prehistoric times. You look up at the sky and see the Sun slowly being blocked out,  becoming a ominous black sphere that glows around the edges. Could you really be faulted for thinking that this was some sort of supernatural event, or that the end of the world was nigh?

Of course not. Which is why for thousands of years, human beings believed that solar eclipses were just that – a sign of death or a bad omen. But in fact, an eclipse is merely what happens when one stellar object passes in front of another and obscures it. In astronomy, this happens all the time; and between the Sun, the Moon, and the Earth, total eclipses have been witnessed countless times throughout history.

Definition:

The general term for when one body passes in front of another in a solar system is transit. This term accurately describes how, depending on your vantage point, stellar bodies pass in front of each other on a regular basis, thus causing the reflected light from that body to be temporarily obscured.

However, when we are talking about how the Moon can pass between the Earth and the Sun, and how the Earth can pass between the Sun and the Moon, we use the term eclipse. This is also known as a syzygy, an astronomical term derived from ancient Greek (meaning “yoked together”) that describes a straight-line configuration between three celestial bodies.

Total Solar Eclipse:

When the Moon passes between the Sun and the Earth, and the Moon fully occults (blocks) the Sun, it is known as the solar eclipse. The type of solar eclipse – total or partial – depends on the distance of the Moon from the Earth during the event.

During an eclipse of the Sun, only a thin path on the surface of the Earth is actually able to experience a total eclipse – which is called the path of totality. People on either side of that path see a partial eclipse, where the Sun is only partly obscured by the Moon, relative to those who are standing in the center and witnessing the maximum point of eclipse.

A total solar eclipse occurs when the Earth intersects the Moon’s umbra – i.e. the innermost and darkest part of its shadow. These are relatively brief events, generally lasting only a few minutes, and can only be viewed along a relatively narrow track (up to 250 km wide). The region where a partial eclipse can be observed is much larger.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/auraluu/7085004603/in/photolist-bN5v2M-dufbuU-pzUHQi-nZQkxQ-6KdhJ7-9TLjD4-dtvX13-pidJNx-dtvUxY-dxAA8r-n8uzjn-hx1CzU-du9zKv-c4eHhw-F1szSh-hx2yTc-dv7Y5W-dubgHK-du9zB6-FvPkNQ-drNyGZ-Eg3Msj-F4kfHb-zpuHFU-yUCmvN-yuSXP5-DqsCRp-zfU1bR-zbbFV9-FrtBYE-hdVRQm-rkh8fd-dufbHG-6KGxbK-dufbmf-du9zQe-ryZmAb-FtsHpn-EAUwcK-Ct6Fma-6KLF1b-FiThUB-EEgQjh-E8uHFM-yUC28b-rqtfQ3-yTR8jt-tsa14t-rHcxrz-rXwEhJ
Totality! The view of the last total solar eclipse to cross a U.S. state (Hawaii) back in 1991. Credit and copyright: A. Nartist (shot from Cabo San Lucas, Baja California).

During a solar eclipse, the Moon can sometimes perfectly cover the Sun because its size is nearly the same as the Sun’s when viewed from the Earth. This, of course, is an illusion brought on by the fact that the Moon is much closer to us than the Sun.

And since it is closer, it can block the light from the Sun and cast a shadow on the surface of the Earth. If you’re standing within that shadow, the Sun and the Moon appear to line up perfectly, so that the Moon is completely darkened.

After a solar eclipse reaches totality, the Moon will continue to move past the Sun, obscuring smaller and smaller portions of it and allowing more and more light to pass.

Total Lunar Eclipse:

A total eclipse of the Moon is a different story. In this situation, the entire Moon passes into the Earth’s shadow, darkening it fully. A partial lunar eclipse occurs when the shadow of the Earth doesn’t fully cover the Moon, so only part of the Moon is darkened.

The phases of a total lunar eclipse. Saturday's eclipse will see the briefest totality in a century. Credit: Keith Burns / NASA
The phases of a total lunar eclipse. Saturday’s eclipse will see the briefest totality in a century. Credit: Keith Burns / NASA

Unlike a solar eclipse, a lunar eclipse can be observed from nearly anywhere in an entire hemisphere. In other words, observers all across planet Earth can see this darkening and it appears the same to all. For this reason, total lunar eclipses are much more common and easier to observe from a given location. A lunar eclipse also lasts longer, taking several hours to complete, with totality itself usually averaging anywhere from about 30 minutes to over an hour.

There are three types of lunar eclipses. There’s a penumbral eclipse, when the Moon crosses only the Earth’s penumbra (the region in which only a portion of light is obscured); followed by a partial, when the Moon crosses partially into the Earth’s umbra (where the light is completely blocked).

Last, there is a total eclipse, when the Moon crosses entirely into the Earth’s umbra. A total lunar eclipse involves the Moon passing through all three phases, then gradually passing out of the Earth’s shadow and becoming bright again. Even during a total lunar eclipse, however, the Moon is not completely dark.

Sunlight is still refracted through the Earth’s atmosphere and enters the umbra to provide faint illumination. Similar to what happens during a sunset, the atmosphere scatters shorter wavelength light, causing it to take on a red hue. This is where the phrase ‘Blood Moon‘ comes from.

Since the Moon orbits the Earth, you would expect to see an eclipse of the Sun and the Moon once a lunar month. However, this does not happen simply because the Moon’s orbit isn’t lined up with the Sun. In fact, the Moon’s orbit is tilted by a few degrees – 1.543º between the angle of the ecliptic and the lunar equator, to be exact.

This means that three objects only have the opportunity to line up and cause an eclipse a few times a year. It’s possible for a total of 7 solar and lunar eclipses every year, but that only happens a few times every century.

Other Types of Eclipses:

The term eclipse is most often used to describe a conjunction between the Earth, Sun and Moon. However, it can also refer to such events beyond the Earth–Moon system. For example, a planet moving into the shadow of one of its moons, a moon passing into the shadow of its host planet, or a moon passing into the shadow of another moon.

Mosaic of Saturn seen in eclipse in September 2006. Earth is the bright dot just inside the F ring at upper left. (CICLOPS/NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI)
Mosaic of Saturn seen in eclipse in September 2006. Earth is the bright dot just inside the F ring at upper left. (CICLOPS/NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI)

For instance, during the Apollo 12 mission in 1969, the crew was able to observe the Sun being eclipsed by the Earth. In 2006, during its mission to study Saturn, the Cassini spacecraft was able to capture the image above, which shows the gas giant transiting between the probe and the Sun.

In July of 2015, when the New Horizons mission passed through the shadow of Pluto, it was able to capture a stunning image of the dwarf planet eclipsing the Sun. The image was taken at a distance of about 2 million km (1.25 million miles), which provided the necessary vantage point to see the disc of the Sun become fully obscured.

On top of that, many other bodies in the Solar System can experience eclipses as well. These include the four gas giants, all of which have major moons that periodically transit between the planet and either Earth-based or space-based observatories.

The most impressive and common of these involve Jupiter and its four largest moons (Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto). Given the size and low axial tilt of these moons, they often experience eclipses with Jupiter as a result of transits, relative to our instruments.

An enviable view, of the most distant eclipse seen yet, as New Horizons flies through the shadow of Pluto. Image credit: NASA/JPL.
An enviable view, of the most distant eclipse seen yet, as New Horizons flies through the shadow of Pluto. Credit: NASA/JPL.

A well-known example occurred in April of 2014, when the Hubble Space Telescope caught an image of Ganymede passing in front at of Jupiter. At the time the image was taken, Ganymede was casting its shadow within Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, which lent the planet a cyclops-like appearance (see below).

The other three gas giants are known to experiences eclipses as well. However, these only occur at certain periods the planet’s orbit of the Sun, due to their higher inclination between the orbits of their moons and the orbital plane of the planets. For instance, Saturn’s largest moon Titan has been known to only occult the ringed gas giant once about every 15 years.

Pluto has also been known to experience eclipses with is largest moon (and co-orbiting body) Charon. However, in all of these cases, the eclipses are never total, as they do not have the size to obscure the much larger gas giant. Instead, the passage of the moons in front of the larger celestial bodies either cast small shadows on the cloud tops of the gas giants, or lead to an annular eclipse at most.

Similarly, on Mars, only partial solar eclipses are ever possible. This is because Phobos or Deimos are not large enough (or distant enough in their orbits) to cover the Sun’s disc, as seen from the surface of the planet. Phobos and Deimos have also been known to experience lunar eclipses as they slip into the shadow of Mars.

Jupiter's Great Red Spot and Ganymede's Shadow. Image Credit: NASA/ESA/A. Simon (Goddard Space Flight Center)
Jupiter’s Great Red Spot and Ganymede’s Shadow. Image Credit: NASA/ESA/A. Simon (Goddard Space Flight Center)

Martian eclipses have been photographed numerous times from both the surface and from orbit. For example, in 2010, the Spirit rover captured images of a Martian lunar eclipse as Phobos, the larger of the two martian moons, was photographed while slipping into the shadow of Mars.

Also, between Nov. 4 and Nov. 5, 2010, the Opportunity rover captured several images (later turned into movies) of a Martian sunset. In the course of imaging the Sun for a total of 17 minutes, Opportunity captured stills of the Sun experiencing a solar eclipse. And on September 13th, 2012 – during the 37th day of its mission (Sol 27) – the Curiosity rover captured an image of Phobos transiting the Sun.

As far as astronomical events go, total eclipses (Lunar and Solar) are not uncommon occurrences. If you ever want to witness a one, all you need to do is keep track of when one will be visible from your part of the world. Some good resources for this are NASA’s Eclipse Website and timeanddate.com.

Or, if you’re the really adventurous type, you can find out where on Earth the next path of totality is going to be, and then book a vacation to go there. Get to the right spot at the right time, and you should be getting the view of a lifetime!

We have written many articles about the eclipse for Universe Today. Here’s a list of articles about specific times when a total Lunar Eclipse took place, and here’s a list of Solar Eclipse articles. And be sure to check out this article and video of an Annular Eclipse.

If you’d like more info about the Eclipse, check out NASA Homepage, and here’s a link to NASA’s Solar System Simulator.

We’ve also recorded related episodes of Astronomy Cast about Eclipses. Listen here, Episode 160: Eclipses.

Sources:

An Impalpable Penumbral Eclipse

penumbral eclipse

Hey, how ’bout that annular eclipse last week? Some great images flooded in to Universe Today, as the final solar eclipse for 2016 graced the African continent. This not only marked the start of the second and final eclipse season for 2016, but it also set us up for the final eclipse of the year next week.

The path of next week's penumbral eclipse through the Earth's shadow. Adapted from NASA/GSFC/F. Espenak.
The path of next week’s penumbral eclipse through the Earth’s shadow. Adapted from NASA/GSFC/F. Espenak.

We’re talking about the penumbral lunar eclipse coming up next week on September 16th, 2016. this sort of eclipse occurs when the Moon just misses the dark inner core (umbra) of the Earth’s shadow, and instead, drifts through its relatively bright outer cone, known as the penumbra. Though not the grandest show as eclipses go, astute observers should notice a subtle light tea-colored shading of the Full Moon, and perhaps the ragged dark edge of the umbra on the northwestern limb of the Moon as it brushes by around mid-eclipse.

The visibility map for next week's eclipse. Image credit: NASA/GSFC/Fred Espenak.
The visibility map for next week’s eclipse. Image credit: NASA/GSFC/Fred Espenak.

The entirety of the eclipse will be visible from the region surrounding the Indian Ocean on the evening of Friday, September 6th. Viewers in Australia, New Zealand and Japan will see the eclipse transpire at moonset, and the eclipse will get underway at moonrise for observers in western Africa and Europe.

The eclipse runs from first contact at 16:55 Universal Time (UT) to 20:54 UT when the Moon quits the Earth’s shadow almost four hours later. Mid-eclipse occurs at 18:55 UT, with the Moon 91% immersed in the Earth’s outer shadow.

Tales of the Saros

This particular eclipse is member 9 of the 71 lunar eclipses in saros series 147. This saros began on July 2nd 1890 and runs through to the final eclipse in the cycle on May 1st 2990. It will produce its very first partial eclipse next time around on September 28th 2034, and its first total lunar eclipse on June 6th, 2449.

Why penumbrals? Aren’t they the ultimate non-event when it comes to eclipses? Like with much of observational astronomy, a penumbral lunar eclipse pushes our skills as a visual athlete to the limit. Check out the waxing gibbous Moon the night before the eclipse, then the Moon the night of the event. If you didn’t know any better, could you tell the difference from one night to the next? Often, the camera can see what the eye can’t. Photographing the Moon before, during and after a penumbral eclipse will often bring out the subtle shading on post-comparison. You’ll want to photograph the Moon when its high in the sky and free of atmospheric distortion low to the horizon, which tends to discolor the Moon. Such a high-flying Moon during mid-eclipse favors the Indian Subcontinent this time around. We’ve yet to see a good convincing time-lapse documenting a penumbral eclipse, though such a feat is certainly possible.

See anything... shady going on? Here's the penumbral lunar eclipse from this past March. Image credit and copyright: Neeraj Ladia
See anything… shady going on? Here’s the penumbral lunar eclipse from this past March. Image credit and copyright: Neeraj Ladia

When is an eclipse… not an eclipse? By some accounts, the Moon underwent a very shallow penumbral one cycle ago on August 18th, 2016, though the brush past the shadow was so slight that many lists, including the NASA’s GSFC eclipse page omitted it. Three eclipses (a lunar partial and a penumbral, or two penumbrals and one solar) can occur in one eclipse season, if the nodes of the Moon’s orbit where it intersects the ecliptic fall just right. This last occurred in 2013, and will happen again in 2020.

And when there’s a lunar eclipse, there’s also a Full Moon. The September Full Moon is the Harvest Moon, providing a few extra hours of illumination to get the crops in. This year, the Harvest Moon falls just six days from the equinox on September 22nd, marking the start of astronomical Fall in the northern hemisphere and Spring in the southern. The relative ecliptic angle also ensures that moonrise only slides back by a slight amount each evening for observers in mid-northern latitudes around the Harvest Moon.

Can’t wait til the next eclipse? Well, 2017 has four of ’em: an annular on February 26th favoring South America, two lunars (another penumbral on February 11th and a partial on August 7th) and oh yeah, there’s a total solar eclipse crossing the United States on August 21st. And the next total lunar eclipse? The dry spell is broken on January 31st, 2018, when a total lunar eclipse favoring the Pacific Rim occurs. Yeah, we got spoiled with four back-to-back lunar eclipses during the Blood Moon tetrad of 2014-2015…

Read Dave Dickinson’s eclipse-fueled sci-fi tales Exeligmos, Shadowfall, The Syzygy Gambit and Peak Season.

A Penumbral Lunar Eclipse Leads the Way to Easter Weekend

Chuck Manges

Ready for Easter? The first of two lunar eclipses for 2016 occurs this week, though it’s an event so subtle, you might not notice it at first glance. We’re talking about Wednesday evening’s (morning for North America) penumbral lunar eclipse. If a total solar eclipse such as the one that crossed Indonesia and the Pacific Ocean earlier this month is the ultimate astronomical experience, then a penumbral lunar eclipse is at the other end of the spectrum, a ghostly shading on the Moon that is barely noticeable. Continue reading “A Penumbral Lunar Eclipse Leads the Way to Easter Weekend”

Why Aren’t There Eclipses Every Month?

If the Sun, Earth and Moon are lined up, shouldn’t we get a lunar and solar eclipse every month? Clearly, we don’t, but why not?

Coincidences happen all the time. Right, Universe? One of the most amazing is that Moon and the Sun appear to be almost exactly the same size in the sky and they’re both the size of your pinky fingernail held at arm’s length. These coincidences just keep piling up. Thanks Universe?

There are two kinds of eclipses: solar and lunar. Well, there’s a third kind, but we’d best not think about that.

A solar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes in between the Earth and Sun, casting a shadow down on the surface of our planet. If you’re in the path of the shadow, the Moon destroys the Sun. No, wait, I mean the Moon blocks the Sun briefly.

A lunar eclipse happens when the Moon passes through the Earth’s shadow. We see one limb of the Moon darken until the entire thing is in shadow.

You’ve got the Sun, Earth and Moon all in a line. Where they’re like this, it’s a solar eclipse, and when they’re like this, it’s a lunar eclipse.

If the Moon takes about a month to orbit the Earth, shouldn’t we get an eclipse every two weeks? First a solar eclipse, and then two weeks later, lunar eclipse, back and forth? And occasionally a total one of the heart? But we don’t get them every month, in fact, it can take months and months between eclipses of any kind.

If the Sun, Earth and Moon were truly lined up perfect, this would be the case. But the reality is that they’re not lined up. The Moon is actually on an inclined plane to the Earth.

The geometry that creates a total lunar eclipse. Credit: NASA
The geometry that creates a total lunar eclipse. Credit: NASA

Imagine the Solar System is a flat disk, like a DVD. You kids still know what those are, right? This is the plane of the ecliptic, and all of the planets are arranged in that disk.

But the Moon is on another disk, which is inclined at an angle of 5.14 degrees. So, if you follow the orbit of the Moon as it goes around the Earth, sometimes it’s above the plane of the ecliptic and sometimes it’s below. So the shadow cast by the Moon misses the Earth, or the shadow cast by the Earth misses the Moon.

But other times, the Sun, Moon and Earth are aligned, and we get eclipses. In fact, eclipses tend to come in pairs, with a solar eclipse followed by a lunar eclipse, because everything is nicely aligned.

Wondering why the Moon turns red during a lunar eclipse? It’s the same reason we see red sunsets here on Earth – the atmosphere filters out the green to violet range of the spectrum, letting the red light pass through.

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

The Earth’s atmosphere refracts the sunlight so that it’s bent slightly, and can illuminate the Moon during the greatest eclipse. It’s an eerie sight, and well worth hanging around outside to watch it happen. We just had recently had a total lunar eclipse, did you get a chance to see it? Wasn’t it awesome?

Don’t forget about the total solar eclipse that’s going to be happening in August, 2017. It’s going to cross the United States from Oregon to Tennessee and should be perfect viewing for millions of people in North America. We’ve already got our road trip planned out.

Are you planning to see the 2017 eclipse? Tell us your plans in the comments below.

Challenge-Watch the Daytime Moon Occult Aldebaran for North America This Friday

How about that total lunar eclipse this past Sunday? Keep an eye of the waning gibbous Moon this week, as it begins a dramatic dive across the ecliptic towards a series of photogenic conjunctions throughout October.

The Main Event: This week’s highlight is an occultation of the bright +0.9 magnitude star Aldebaran (Alpha Tauri) by the waning gibbous Moon on Friday morning October 2nd.

Image credit: Occult 4.0 software
The occultation footprint for Friday’s occultation of Aldebaran by the Moon, with pre-dawn, dawn and post-dawn zones annotated. Image credit: Occult 4.0 software

This occurs in the pre-dawn hours for Alaskan residents, and under favorable dawn twilight skies along the U.S. and Canadian Pacific west coast; the remainder of the contiguous United States and Canada will see the occultation transpire after sunrise.   This is the 10th of 49 occultations of Aldebaran by the Moon worldwide running from January 29th, 2015 through September 3rd, 2018. The Moon will be at 74% waning gibbous phase, and Aldebaran will disappear behind its illuminated limb to reappear from behind its trailing dark limb.

Check out this amazing Vine of the last occultation of Aldebaran by the Moon courtesy of Andrew Symes @FailedProtostar:

It’s interesting to note that the southern graze-line for the occultation roughly follows the U.S./Mexican border. Seeing a bright star wink in and out from behind the lunar valleys can be an unforgettable sight, adding an eerie 3D perspective to the view. A detailed analysis of the event can even help model the rugged limb of the Moon.

Hunting stars and planets in the daytime can be an interesting feat of visual athletics. We’ve managed to spy Aldebaran near the lunar limb with binoculars during an occultation witnessed from Alaska on September 4th, 1996, and can attest that it’s quite possible to see a +1st magnitude star near the Moon with optical aid. A clear blue sky is key.  The Greek philosopher Thales noted that stars could be seen from the bottom of a well (though perhaps he’d fallen down a well or two too many in his time)… Friday’s event should push your local seeing to its limits. Start tracking Aldebaran before local sunrise, and you should be able to follow it all the way to the lunar limb, clear skies willing.

Image credit: Dave Dickinson/Stellarium
The occultation path for various locales across the United States Friday morning. Image credit: Dave Dickinson/Stellarium

Here’s a listing of times for key events for Friday from around the U.S. Check out The International Occultation Timing Association’s page for the event for an extensive listing:

Image credit: Dave Dickinson
Key times for the occultation for the same locales depicted in the graphic above, along with the lunar elevation (altitude) above the local horizon at the time noted. Image credit: Dave Dickinson

And whenever the Moon meets Aldebaran, it has to cross the open star cluster of the Hyades to get there, meaning there’ll be many other worthy occultations of moderately bright stars around October 2nd as well.  Gamma Tauri, 75 Tauri, Theta^1 Tauri, and SAO93975 are all occulted by the Moon on the morning of October 2nd leading up to the Aldebaran occultation; particularly intriguing is the grazing occultation of +5 magnitude 75 Tauri across the Florida peninsula.

The path of the moon through the Hyades this weekend. Image credit: Starry Night Education software
The path of the Moon through the Hyades this weekend. Image credit: Starry Night Education software

Fun fact: the Moon can, on occasion, occult members of the M45 Pleiades star cluster as well, as last occurred in 2010, and will next occur on 2023.

Chasing the Moon through October

Follow that Moon for the following dates with astronomical destiny worldwide:

  • The Moon reaches Last Quarter phase on Sunday, October 4th at 21:06 UT/5:06 PM EDT.
  • A close pass with Venus on October 8th, with a brilliant occultation visible in the pre-dawn hours from Australia.
  • A tight photogenic grouping of the Moon, Mars and Jupiter in a four degree circle on the morning on October 9th;
  • A close pass of the Moon just 36 hours from New near Mercury on the morning of Sunday, October 11th, with another occultation of the planet visible from Chile at dawn;
  • And finally, New Moon (sans eclipse, this time) occurring at 00:06 UT on October 13th, marking the start of lunation 1148.

Why occultations? Consider the wow factor; light from Aldebaran left about 65 years ago, before the start of the Space Age, only to get ‘photobombed’ by the occulting Moon at the last moment. Four bright stars (Regulus, Spica, Antares and Aldebaran) lie along the Moon’s path in our current epoch. Dial the celestial scene back about two millennia ago, and the Moon was also capable of occulting the bright star Pollux in the astronomical constellation of Gemini as well.

We’ll be running video for the event clear skies willing Friday morning here from Hudson, Florida in the Tampa Bay area. And as always, let us know of your tales of astronomical tribulation and triumph!

First Lunar Eclipse Ever Photographed with a Transit of the ISS

To our knowledge, this is the first time anyone has ever photographed a transit of the International Space Station of the Moon DURING a lunar eclipse. And guess who did it?

Not surprisingly, it was the legendary astrophotographer Thierry Legault.
Usually, Thierry will travel up to thousands of miles to capture unique events like this, but this time, he only had to go 10 miles!

“Even if I caught a cold, I could not miss it,” Thierry told Universe Today in an email. “The Moon was very low on the horizon, only 16 degrees, so the seeing was not very good, but at least the sky was clear.”

Still, a stunning — and singularly unique — view of the “Super Blood Moon” eclipse!

See the video below:

It was a quick pass, with the ISS transit duration lasting a total of 1.7 seconds. Thierry uses CalSky to calculate where he needs to be to best capture an event like this, then studies maps, and has a radio synchronized watch to know very accurately when the transit event will happen.

In a previous article on Universe Today, Legault shared how he figures out the best places to travel to from his home near Paris to get the absolute best shots:

“For transits I have to calculate the place, and considering the width of the visibility path is usually between 5-10 kilometers, but I have to be close to the center of this path,” Legault explained, “because if I am at the edge, it is just like an eclipse where the transit is shorter and shorter. And the edge of visibility line of the transit lasts very short. So the precision of where I have to be is within one kilometer.”

Here’s the specs: ISS Speed: 25000 km/h (15500 mph). ISS Distance: 1100 km; Moon distance: 357,000 km (320x).

You can see other imagery from around the world of the lunar eclipse here, with images taken by Universe Today readers and staff.

Earlier this year, Thierry captured an ISS transit during the March 20, 2015 SOLAR eclipse, which you can see here.

Universe Today’s David Dickinson said he’s been trying to steer people towards trying to capture an ISS transit during a lunar eclipse for quite some time, and concurred that Thierry’s feat is a first. Dave made a video earlier this year to explain how people might photograph it during the April 2015 lunar eclipse, but unfortunately, no astrophotographers had any luck.

Thanks again to Thierry Legault for sharing his incredible work with Universe Today. Check out his website for additional imagery and information.

You can also see some of Legault’s beautiful and sometimes ground-breaking astrophotography here on Universe Today, such as images of the space shuttle or International Space Station crossing the Sun or Moon, or views of spy satellites in orbit.

If you want to try and master the art of astrophotography, you can learn from Legault by reading his book, “Astrophotography,” which is available on Amazon in a large format book or as a Kindle edition for those who might like to have a lit version while out in the field. It is also available at book retailers like Barnes and Noble and Shop Indie bookstores, or from the publisher, Rocky Nook, here.