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.

A Bloody Beautiful Supermoon Eclipse!

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.

Nicely-done sequence of eclipse phases taken early September 28, 2015. Credit: Own Llewellyn
Nicely-done sequence of eclipse phases taken early September 28, 2015. Click to enlarge. Credit: Own Llewellyn

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.

Salute to the eclipse! Credit: Jason Major
Salute to the final eclipse of the current tetrad that began 17 months ago.  Credit: Jason Major

The bottom or southern rim of the Moon, located farthest from the center of the umbra, appeared a lighter yellow-orange throughout totality.

Wide angle view of the Moon during totality in star-rich sky with the Aquila Milky visible at right. Credit: Bob King
Wide angle view of the Moon (lower left) during totality in a star-rich sky with the Aquila Milky Way visible at right. Credit: Bob King

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!

A crowd gather to watch the Moon during partial eclipse prior to totality. Credit: Robert Sparks
A crowd gather to watch the Moon during partial eclipse prior to totality. Credit: Robert Sparks
A hint of the penumbra shows in this photo. Hint: look near left top. Credit: Roger Hutchinson
A hint of the penumbra shows in this photo. Hint: look near left top. Credit: Roger Hutchinson
A bloody Moon iindeed! Credit: Chris Lyons
A bloody Moon iindeed! Notice how dark Oceanus Procellarum (top) appears. Credit: Chris Lyons
"Super Blood Moon". Credit: Alok SInghal
“Super Blood Moon”. Credit: Alok Singhal
Nice montage of images from eclipse start to finish. Credit: Mike Greenham
Nice montage of images from eclipse start to finish. Credit: Mike Greenham
One of the most awesome aspects of the eclipse was how many stars could be seen near the Moon. This picture was taken with a 100mm telesphoto lens. Credit: Bob King
One of the most awesome aspects of the eclipse was how many stars could be seen near the Moon. This picture was taken with a 100mm telesphoto lens. Credit: Bob King
Rare shot of the totally eclipsed Moon and bright meteor. Credit: VegaStar Carpentier Photography
Rare shot of the totally eclipsed Moon and bright meteor. Credit: VegaStar Carpentier Photography
A lucky break in the clouds made this photographer happy. Credit: Moe Ali
A lucky break in the clouds made this photographer happy. Credit: Moe Ali
Mary Spicer made exposures every 5 minutes. During totality the Moon dropped behind a tree so I had to relocate the camera, hence the small gap in the sequence. 35 shots in total, stacked using StarStax. Credit: Mary Spicer
Mary Spicer made exposures of the eclipsed Moon every 5 minutes. During totality, the Moon dropped behind a tree so she had to relocate the camera, hence the small gap in the sequence. 35 shots in total and stacked into one frame using StarStax. Credit: Mary Spicer
The Moon caught after totality between clouds through a small refracting telescope. Credit: Bob King
The Moon caught after totality between clouds through a small refracting telescope. Credit: Bob King
Another nice montage displaying all the partial phases, early, mid and late totality. Credit: Andre van der Hoeven
Another fine montage displaying all the partial phase plus early, mid and late totality. Credit: Andre van der Hoeven

How to (Hopefully) Find Clear Skies for Tonight’s Total Lunar Eclipse

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.

One of my favorite cloud-checking sites is the GOES East view of the U.S., Canada and Central America taken from geostationary orbit. Credit: NASA
One of my favorite cloud-checking sites is the GOES East view of the U.S., Canada and Central America taken from geostationary orbit. This map shows the scene at 10:45 a.m. CDT this morning. Credit: NASA

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.

GOES West view of the western U.S., Canada and Hawaii taken at 11 a.m. CDT. Credit: NASA
GOES West view of the western U.S., Canada and Hawaii taken at 11 a.m. CDT. Credit: NASA

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.

After you set the width and height to maximum values, you'll get a picture like this which was taken at 11 a.m. CDT and features the upper and lower Midwest. Credit: NASA
After you set the width and height to maximum values, you’ll get a picture like this, taken at 11 a.m. CDT. Credit: NASA

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.

Infrared image of the east-central U.S. at 11 a.m. CDT today. Credit: NASA
Infrared image of the east-central U.S. at 11 a.m. CDT today. Clouds can be seen and tracked at night using the infrared channel on the GOES East and West sites. Credit: NASA

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 cloud cover forecast for Chicago for the next day as depicted in Attilla Danko's Clear Dark Sky site. Copyright: Attilla Danko
The cloud cover forecast for Chicago today Sept. 27 through early Tuesday Sept. 29 as depicted in Attilla Danko’s Clear Dark Sky site. The forecasts can be sponsored for a donation by various groups or individuals. This one is by the Chicago Astronomical Society. Copyright: Attilla Danko

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:

Weekly Space Hangout – April 10, 2015: Orbital Docking with Dr. Stephen Granade

Host: Fraser Cain (@fcain)
Special Guest: Dr. Stephen Granade (@sargent)
Guests:
Dave Dickinson (@astroguyz / www.astroguyz.com)
Charles Black (@charlesblack / sen.com/charles-black)
Continue reading “Weekly Space Hangout – April 10, 2015: Orbital Docking with Dr. Stephen Granade”

A Red Moon – NOT a Sign of the Apocalypse!

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.

Depiction of the Sun's rays turning the Moon red. Image Credit: NASA/Mars Exploration
Depiction of the Sun’s rays turning the Moon red. Image Credit: NASA/Mars Exploration

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.

Path of the Moon through Earth's umbral and penumbral shadows during the Total Lunar Eclipse of April 15, 2014. Image Credit: NASA/Eclipse
Path of the Moon through Earth’s umbral and penumbral shadows during the Total Lunar Eclipse of April 15, 2014. Image Credit: NASA/Eclipse Website

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.

Of course, NASA has some great explanations of the red Moon effect during a lunar eclipse. Here’s another one.

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?

Sources: NASA Science: Lunar Eclipse, NASA: Mars Exploration, Discovery News, NASA: Eclipse Website

Interesting Facts About The Moon

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.

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Stunning Photos of the Hunter’s Moon Lunar Eclipse

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!

Montage of the various views of the Moon during the lunar eclipse on October 8, 2014. Credit and copyright: Chuck Manges.
Montage of the various views of the Moon during the lunar eclipse on October 8, 2014. Credit and copyright: Chuck Manges.
Near-totality eclipsed Moon, in Pisces, with Uranus at left. Delta Psc is that brightest star at upper-right of Moon. Imaged near Calabash, North Carolina. Credit and copyright: Tavi Greiner.
Near-totality eclipsed Moon, in Pisces, with Uranus at left. Delta Psc is that brightest star at upper-right of Moon. Imaged near Calabash, North Carolina. Credit and copyright: Tavi Greiner.
The red 'blood Moon' of the October 8, 2014 lunar eclipse, as seen from the Mare Island Observatory. Credit and copyright: Clifton Reed.
The red ‘blood Moon’ of the October 8, 2014, lunar eclipse, as seen from the Mare Island Observatory. Credit and copyright: Clifton Reed.
The eclipsed Moon sets over the Andes (Mts. Lopez and Capilla, Bariloche). Credit and copyright:  Guillermo Abramson.
The eclipsed Moon sets over the Andes (Mts. Lopez and Capilla, Bariloche). Credit and copyright: Guillermo Abramson.
Total Lunar Eclipse through the clouds as seen from Weatherly, PA on October 8, 2014. Credit and copyright: Tom Wildoner.
Total Lunar Eclipse through the clouds as seen from Weatherly, PA on October 8, 2014. Credit and copyright: Tom Wildoner.
'Eclipse on the edge,'  shot from the front of the Mizpah Hotel in Tonopah, Nevada. Credit and copyright: David Dickinson.
‘Eclipse on the edge,’ shot from the front of the Mizpah Hotel in Tonopah, Nevada. Credit and copyright: David Dickinson.
Last moments of the eclipse as seen from Calama, Chile. Credit and copyright: srta Andrea on Flickr.
Last moments of the eclipse as seen from Calama, Chile. Credit and copyright: srta Andrea on Flickr.
The October 8th 2014 lunar eclipse from Houston, Texas, taken with a 500m lens featuring a statue of Sam Houston. Credit and copyright: Sergio Garcia Rill.
The October 8th, 2014, lunar eclipse from Houston, Texas, taken with a 500m lens featuring a statue of Sam Houston. Credit and copyright: Sergio Garcia Rill.
Image of the lunar eclipse taken just before the midpoint of totality. Taken with a modified Canon 450D + Celestron C6-N telescope. f/4 ISO400 4s exposure. Credit and copyright: Fred Locklear.
Image of the lunar eclipse taken just before the midpoint of totality. Taken with a modified Canon 450D + Celestron C6-N telescope. f/4 ISO400 4s exposure. Credit and copyright: Fred Locklear.
Lunar Eclipse on 10-08-2014 Huffman Dam, Dayton, Ohio Canon 6D, 80mm refractor,2x Barlow (1200mm) ISO 6400,  2 sec exposure. Credit and copyright: John Chumack/Galactic Images.
Lunar Eclipse on 10-08-2014
Huffman Dam, Dayton, Ohio
Canon 6D, 80mm refractor,2x Barlow (1200mm) ISO 6400,
2 sec exposure. Credit and copyright: John Chumack/Galactic Images.

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.

Weekly Space Hangout – Oct. 3, 2014: Islands, Earwigs and Other Mysteries!

Host: Fraser Cain (@fcain)

Guests:
Morgan Rehnberg (cosmicchatter.org / @cosmic_chatter)
David Dickinson (Astroguyz.com / @astroguyz)
Ramin Skibba (@raminskibba)
Brian Koberlein (@briankoberlein)

Continue reading “Weekly Space Hangout – Oct. 3, 2014: Islands, Earwigs and Other Mysteries!”

Dramatic Timelapse of the Recent “Blood Moon” Eclipse

This timelapse of the lunar eclipse that took place April 15, 2014 will have you checking over your shoulder for aliens! Photographer Andrew Walker shot this footage at the Caltech’s CARMA Array (Combined Array for Research in Millimeter-wave Astronomy) in the Inyo Mountains of California. You can find out more about his impressive equipment details here, but the very fitting music you may be familiar with: it’s from the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
Continue reading “Dramatic Timelapse of the Recent “Blood Moon” Eclipse”