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”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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!
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.
Like some of you, I outran the clouds just in time to catch last night’s total lunar eclipse. What a beautiful event! Here are some gorgeous pictures from our readers and Universe Today staff — souvenirs if you will — of the last total lunar eclipse anywhere until January 31, 2018. The sky got so dark, and the Moon hung like a plum in Earth’s shadow for what seemed a very long time. Did you estimate the Moon’s brightness on the Danjon Scale? My brother and I both came up with L=2 from two widely-separated locations; William Wiethoff in Hayward, Wisconsin rated it L=1. All three estimates would indicate a relatively dark eclipse.
The darkness of the umbra was particularly noticeable in the west quarter of the Moon in the giant volcanic plain known as Oceanus Procellarum. This makes sense as that portion of the Moon was located closest to the center of the Earth’s dark, inner umbra. The plain is also dark compared to the brighter lunar highlights, which being more reflective, formed a sort of pale ring around the northern rim of the lunar disk.
The bottom or southern rim of the Moon, located farthest from the center of the umbra, appeared a lighter yellow-orange throughout totality.
This is just a small sampling of the excellent images arriving from our readers. More are flowing in on Universe Today’s Flickr site. Thank you everyone for your submissions!
We’ve arrived at eclipse day, so now the big question is, will it be clear? My favorite forecast for major astronomical events reads something like this: Fair skies tonight with light winds and lows in the middle 50s.While I hope that’s exactly what’s predicted for your town, in my corner of the world we’re expecting “increasing clouds with a chance for thunderstorms”.
That’s just not nice. Same by you? Here’s how to find that clear spot if you’re facing bad weather tonight.
I usually check the GOES (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite) images that weather forecasters use to display and animate the movement of clouds and weather fronts during the nightly newscasts. Once I know the location and general drift of the clouds, I get in a car and drive to where it’s likely to either remain or become clear. Depending on the “magnitude” of the event I might drive 50 to 150 miles. If nothing else, doing astronomy guarantees many adventures.
You’ll find these most helpful images at either the GOES East site, which features a photo of the entire mainland U.S., Central America and much of Canada, updated every 15 minutes. Since the satellite taking the photos is centered over the 75° west parallel of longitude, its focus is primarily the eastern two-thirds of the U.S. and Canada. For the western U.S., western Canada and Hawaii, head over to the GOES West site.
Once there, you’ll be presented with a big picture view of the U.S., etc., but you can click anywhere on the map for a zoomed-in look at a particular region. Before you do, set the “width” and “height” boxes to their maximum values of 1400 (width) and 1000 (height). That way you’ll get a full-screen, nifty, 1-kilometer image when you go in close. All images have a time stamp in the upper left corner given in Universal or Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). Subtract 4 hours to convert to Easter Daylight; 5 for CDT; 6 for MDT and 7 for PDT.
You can check back all day long for fresh photos and watch the march of the clouds over time. Or you can have the site assemble up to 30 of the most recent images into an animation loop and watch it as a movie. Combing current photos, the animation and your local forecast will inform your plans about whether to remain at home to watch the eclipse or get the heck out of town.
When night arrives, you can still get a reasonably good idea of where the clouds are and aren’t by clicking on the infrared channel link at the top of the site. I also like to use the NCAR (National Center for Atmospheric Research Real-Time Weather Data) site. They offer a black and white infrared option that provides a clearer picture. At the site, select your “channel” then click on one of the regional acronyms on the interactive U.S. map.
So far, we’ve been talking about the weather in real time. When it comes to forecasts, one of the most useful tools of all and a true godsend to amateur astronomers is Attilla Danko’s ClearDarkSky site. Click on the Clear Sky Charts link to access interactive charts for thousands of locations across the U.S., Canada and parts of Mexico. For example, if you click on Illinois, you’ll get a list of sky conditions for 105 locations throughout the state. The Chicago link pops up six rows of data-packed squares with colors ranging from deep blue to white.
The first row indicates cloud clover with varying shades of blue representing the percentage of clear sky. Medium blue means partly cloudy; white indicates 100% overcast. Additional data sets include sky transparency, seeing conditions, hours of darkness, wind, temperature and humidity. While no forecast is 100% accurate, the reliability of the models Danko uses makes Clear Sky Charts one of best tools available for skywatchers. Want a real treat? If you click on one of the squares in the Cloud Cover row, a large image showing cloud cover at the time will pop up. You’ll also find another, more general interactive cloud forecast graphic at WeatherForYou.com.
Thanks to a helpful reader suggestion, I recently learned of Clear Outside, a forecasting site similar to Clear Sky Charts but worldwide. Be sure to check it out. Satellite imagery like the U.S. GOES East and West is available for European and African observers at Sat24.
So what does the U.S. look like for weather tonight? Mostly clear skies are expected from New York State up through Maine, across the center of the country, the desert Southwest and the Northwest. Expect partly cloudy conditions (with some mostly cloudy spots) for the Upper and central Midwest, and mostly cloudy to overcast skies in the southern and southeastern seaboard states.
But who knows? By using these sites, you might just improve your chances of seeing what promises to be a spectacular lunar eclipse tonight. Some of you reading this undoubtedly have your own favorite weather hangouts. Please share them with us in the comments section. The more the merrier!
As always, if you’re completely shut out, here are a few sites where you can watch it live on the Web:
On most evenings, the Moon will appear as a bright yellow or white color in the night sky. But on occasion, the Moon can turn a beautiful and dramatic red, coppery color. Naturally, there are a number of superstitions associated with this stellar event. But to modern astronomers, a Red Moon is just another fascinating phenomenon that has a scientific explanation.
Since the earliest days of recorded history, the Moon has been believed to have a powerful influence over human and animal behavior. To the Romans, staring at a full Moon was thought to drive a person crazy – hence the term “lunatic”. Farmers in the past would plant their crops “by the moon”, which meant sowing their seeds in accordance with the Moon’s phases in the hopes of getting a better harvest.
So naturally, when the Moon turned red, people became wary. According to various Biblical passages, a Blood Moon was thought to be a bad omen. But of course, the Moon turns red on a semi-regular basis, and the world has yet to drown in fire. So what really accounts for a “Red Moon?” What causes Earth’s only satellite to turn the color of blood?
Ordinarily, the Moon appears as it does because it is reflecting light from the Sun. But on occasion, it will darken and acquire either a golden, copper, or even rusty-red color.
There are few situations that can cause a red Moon. The most common way to see the Moon turn red is when the Moon is low in the sky, just after moonrise or before it’s about to set below the horizon. Just like the Sun, light from the Moon has to pass through a larger amount of atmosphere when it’s down near the horizon, compared to when it’s overhead.
The Earth’s atmosphere can scatter sunlight, and since moonlight is just scattered sunlight, it can scatter that too. Red light can pass through the atmosphere and not get scattered much, while light at the blue end of the spectrum is more easily scattered. When you see a red moon, you’re seeing the red light that wasn’t scattered, but the blue and green light have been scattered away. That’s why the Moon looks red.
The second reason for a red Moon is if there’s some kind of particle in the air. A forest fire or volcanic eruption can fill the air with tiny particles that partially obscure light from the Sun and Moon. Once again, these particles tend to scatter blue and green light away, while permitting red light to pass through more easily. When you see a red moon, high up in the sky, it’s probably because there’s a large amount of dust in the air.
A third – and dramatic – way to get a red Moon is during a lunar eclipse. This happens when the Moon is full and passes into Earth’s shadow (also known as the umbra), which darkens it. At that point, the Moon is no longer being illuminated by the Sun. However, the red light passing through the Earth’s atmosphere does reach the Moon, and is thus reflected off of it.
For those observing from the ground, the change in color will again be most apparent when the Moon appears low in the night sky, just after moonrise or before it’s about to set below the horizon. Once again, this is because our heavy atmosphere will scatter away the blue/green light and let the red light go straight through.
The reddish light projected on the Moon is much dimmer than the full white sunlight the Moon typically reflects back to us. That’s because the light is indirect and because the red-colored wavelengths are only a part of what makes up the white light from the sun that the Moon usually receives.
In other words, when you see a red Moon, you’re seeing the result of blue and green light that has been scattered away, and the red light remaining.
And that’s the various ways how we get a Red Moon in the night sky. Needless to say, our ancient forebears were a little nervous about this celestial phenomenon occurrence.
For example, Revelations 6:12/13 says that a Red Moon is a sign of the apocalypse: “When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale.”
But rest assured that if you see one, it’s not the end of the world. The Sun and Moon will rise again. And be sure to check out this Weekly Space Hangout, where the April 4th eclipse is discussed:
We have covered lunar eclipses many times on Universe Today, and often explain the red Moon phenomenon. Here’s another good explanation of the science behind a Red Moon, and why the recent series of lunar eclipses in 2014 and 2015 (known as a tetrad) do not mean anything apocalyptic, and here’s another article about how to see a lunar eclipse. Here’s an article that includes a stunning array of images of the Moon during an eclipse in 2014.
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?
Shining like a beacon in Earth’s sky is the Moon. We’ve seen so much of it in our lifetimes that it’s easy to take it for granted; even the human landings on the Moon in the 1960s and 1970s were eventually taken for granted by the public.
Fortunately for science, we haven’t stopped looking at the Moon in the decades after Neil Armstrong took his first step. Here are a few things to consider about Earth’s closest big neighbor.
Did you see it? On October 8, 2014, early risers in North and South America, east Asia, Australia and the Pacific saw unique and rare views of the Hunter’s Moon as was eclipsed by Earth’s shadow. We’ve got so many great pictures to share from our Flickr group and from social media! In some shots, the fully eclipsed Moon glows with a coppery red hue, and in others the partially eclipsed Moon appears to have a bite taken out of its bright surface. Some images pair the Moon with a faint planet Uranus.
This is the second and final total lunar eclipse of 2014, and the second of four in a quartet series of lunar eclipses known as a tetrad — a series of 4 consecutive total eclipses occurring at approximately six month intervals. The next total eclipse will be on April 4, 2015, with another occurring on Sept. 28, 2015.
Enjoy the images below!
— Bill Magee (@88skywatcher88) October 8, 2014
— Matt Woods (@matty_woods) October 8, 2014
— J Farley Photography (@jfarleyphoto) October 8, 2014
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.