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.”

This Week: Occultations of Aldebaran, Regulus vs. the Supermoon

Aldebaran Occultation

It’s a busy week for the Moon. While our large solitary natural satellite reaches Full and interferes with the 2016 Geminids, it’s also beginning a series of complex bright star occultations of Aldebaran and Regulus, giving us a taste of things to come in 2017.

First up, here’s the lowdown on this week’s occultation of Aldebaran by the Moon, coming right up tonight:

Aldebaran Occultation
The footprint for tonight’s occultation of Aldebaran by the Moon. You can find specific ingress and egress times for major cities near you on the IOTA event page. Credit: Occult 4.2.

The 99% illuminated waxing gibbous Moon occults the +0.9 magnitude star Aldebaran on Monday, December 12th. The Moon is just 19 hours and 30 minutes before reaching Full during the event. Both are located 167 degrees east of the Sun at the time of the event. The central time of conjunction is 4:37 Universal Time (UT). The event occurs during the daylight hours over Hawaii at dusk during Moonrise, and under darkness for Mexico, most of Canada and the contiguous United States. The event also includes the United Kingdom and southwestern Europe at Moonset near early dawn. This is the final occultation of Aldebaran by the Moon for 2016; The Moon will next occult Aldebaran on January 9th, 2017. This is occultation 26 in the current series of 49, running from January 29th, 2015 to September 3rd, 2018.

Moon Gibraltar
The view from Gibraltar just prior to this week’s occultation of Aldebaran by the Moon. Credit: Stellarium.

Four 1st magnitude stars are along the Moon’s path in the current epoch: Regulus, Aldebaran, Antares and Spica. In the current century, (2001-2100 AD) the Moon occults Aldebaran 247 times, topped only by Antares (386 times) and barely beating out Spica (220 times). The Moon also occults Regulus 220 times this century, and occultations of Spica and Antares resume on May 2024 and July 2023, respectively.

And yes, this Supermoon 3 of 3 for 2016, though actual perigee occurs at 23:28 UT tonight, 39 minutes past our own ’24 hour from Full’ rule. The Moon reaches Full on Wednesday, December 14th at just past midnight at 00:07 UT. This is also the closest Full Moon to the December 21st winter solstice next week, and the Full Moon will ride high in the sky this week for northern hemisphere observers on long winter nights.

Keep an eye out for Geminid meteors tonight as well… sure, 2016 may be an off year for this usually spectacular shower, but a few brighter fireballs may still punch through the lunar light pollution.

Clouded out? Be sure to catch the Supermoon action tomorrow night live online starting at 16:00 UT, courtesy of Gianluca Masi and the Virtual Telescope Project.

And there’s more. This coming weekend marks the start of an upcoming new cycle of occultations of Regulus by the Moon. These run right through 2018, as the Moon visits the bright star Regulus five days after crossing the Hyades and occulting Aldebaran for every lunation pass in 2017.

Here’s the specifics for Sunday’s event:

Moon Regulus
The footprint for Sunday’s occultation of Regulus by the Moon. You can find specific ingress and egress times for major cities near you on the IOTA event page. Credit: Occult 4.2.

The 73% illuminated waning gibbous Moon occults the +1.4 magnitude star Regulus on Sunday, December 18th. The Moon is just four days past Full during the event. Both are located 117 degrees west of the Sun at the time of the event. The central time of conjunction is 18:38 Universal Time (UT). The event occurs during the daylight hours over Tasmania, and under darkness for the southwestern tip of Australia, including Perth. The Moon will next occult Regulus on January 15th, 2017. This is the first occultation in a new series of nineteen, running from this weekend to April 24th, 2018.

moon regulus
The view of Sunday’s event from Perth, Australia. Credit: Stellarium.

It’s worth noting that the graze line for Sunday’s occultation of Regulus by the Moon runs just north of the Australian city of Perth and the Perth Observatory… let us know if anyone ‘Down Under’ witnesses the first occultation of Regulus in the new cycle.

Can you spy Regulus’ white dwarf companion? Located 77 light years distant, the Regulus system has at least four components: a B/C pair shining at a combined magnitude of +8, with an apparent separation of 3”, (5,000 AU physical distance in a ~600 year orbit) and an unseen white dwarf companion in a tight 40 day orbit. We know that said white dwarf companion exists from spectroscopic analysis… and it would shine at an easy magnitude +13, were it not near dazzling Regulus shining over 10,000 times brighter. Could this elusive companion turn up just moments before the reappearance of Regulus from behind the Moon? Remember, the dark limb of the Moon leads the way during waxing phases, then trails as the Moon wanes. These and other amazing facts are included in our forthcoming free guide to 101 Astronomical Events to watch out for in 2017.

Regulus occultations
Every occultation of Regulus for the upcoming cycle. Credit: Occult 4.2.

Follow that Moon, and don’t miss these fine astro-events coming to sky above you this week!

November’s Supermoon 2016 – Closest of a Lifetime?

What’s that, rising in the sky?

By now, you’ve heard the news. We’ll spare you the “it’s a bird, it’s a plane…” routine to usher in the Supermoon 2016. This month’s Full Moon is not only the closest for the year, but the nearest Full Moon for a 80 year plus span.

Like Blue and Black Moons, a Supermoon is more of a cultural phenomenon than a true astronomical event. The Moon’s orbit is elliptical, taking it from 362,600 to 405,400 km from the Earth in the course of its 27.55 day anomalistic orbit from one perigee to the next. For the purposes of this week’s discussion, we consider a Supermoon as when the Full Moon occurs within 24 hours of perigee, and a Minimoon as when the Full Moon occurs within 24 hours of apogee. From the Earth, the Moon varies in apparent size from 29.3” to 34.1” across. This month, the Moon reaches perigee on November 14th at 356,511 kilometers distant, 2 hours and 22 minutes before Full.

A perigee 'Supermoon' versus an apogee 'Minimoon'. Image credit and copyright: Raven Yu.
A perigee ‘Supermoon’ versus an apogee ‘Minimoon’. Image credit and copyright: Raven Yu.

This is the closest perigee Moon for 2016, beating out the April 7th, 2016 perigee Moon by just 652 kilometers. Perigee can vary over a span of 2,800 kilometers. In the 21st century, the farthest lunar perigee (think the ‘most distant near point’) occurs on January 3rd, 2100 at 370,356 kilometers distant, while the closest perigee of the century (356,425 kilometers) occurs on December 6th , 2052.

When the Moon reaches Full on November 14th at 13:51 UT, it’s just 356,520 kilometers distant, (that is , as measured from the Earth’s center) the closest Full Moon since January 26th, 1948 (356,490 km) and until November 25th , 2034 (356,446 km) losing out to either dates by just 21 kilometers.

Why does perigee vary? Well, as the Moon orbits the Earth, the Sun tugs our large natural satellite’s orbit around as well, in an 8.85 year cycle known as the precession of the line of apsides. Earth’s orbit is elliptical as well, and the tugging of the Sun (and to a much lesser degree, the other planets in the solar system) alters the perigee and apogee points slightly based on where the Earth-Moon pair fall in their swing about a common barycenter.

The November Full Moon is also known as the Full Beaver Moon by the Algonquin Native Americans, a good time to ensure a supply of winter furs before the swamps froze over. A good sign that even in 2016, ‘Winter is Coming.’

Does the Moon look any larger to you than usual as it rises to the east opposite to the setting Sun on Monday night? When the Moon reaches Full, it passes the zenith as seen from the central Indian Ocean region just south of Sri Lanka, 354,416 km distant. Of course, as the Moon rises, it’s actually one full Earth radii more distant than when straight overhead at the zenith.

A side-by-side 'Super' vs 'Minimoon.' Image credit and copyright: Marco Langbroek.
A side-by-side ‘Super’ vs ‘Minimoon.’ Image credit and copyright: Marco Langbroek.

Would you notice any difference in the size of the November Full Moon, if you didn’t know better? The 4′ odd difference between an apogee and perigee Full Moon is certainly discernible in side-by-side images… but it’s interesting to note that early cultures did not uncover the elliptical nature of the Moon’s motion, though it certainly would have been possible. Crystalline spheres ruled the day, a sort of perfection that was just tough to break in the minds of many.

Be sure to enjoy the rising Full Moon on Monday night, the largest for many years to come.

November Opens with a Splendid Gathering of Moon and Planets

Look how pretty. This will be the scene from your yard, apartment window or driving west along the freeway Tuesday evening about 45 minutes after sundown. Saturn and the Moon will be in conjunction about 3 degrees apart with Venus 6 degrees to the southeast of the crescent. Source: Stellarium
Look how pretty. This will be the scene from your yard, apartment window or driving west along a freeway Tuesday evening about 45 minutes after sundown. Saturn and the Moon will be in conjunction about 3 degrees apart with Venus 6 degrees to the southeast of the crescent. Source: Stellarium

I love easy and bright. While I often spend time seeking faint nebulae and wandering comets, there’s nothing like just looking up and seeing a beautiful scene aglow in the night sky. No binoculars or telescope needed. That’s exactly what will happen Tuesday November 2, when an attractive crescent Moon will join Saturn and Venus at dusk in the southwestern sky.

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). November’s Supermoon will be 14% bigger and 30% brighter than a regular Full Moon. Credit: Marco Langbroek / Wikimedia Commons

What a fine threesome they’ll make: Venus the white-hot spark shining at magnitude –4.0; Saturn a mellow magnitude +0.5, some 20 times fainter and the Moon a fingernail crescent above them both. The Moon will be  just two days past apogee, the furthest point in its orbit from Earth. Does it look a little smaller than the usual crescent? If you’re a keen watcher of crescents, you just might notice the difference.

In less than two weeks, on November 14,  the crescent will have waxed to full, swung around to the opposite end of its orbit, where it will be at perigee, its closest point to Earth. When a Full Moon occurs at perigee, we call it a Supermoon because it’s closer and correspondingly bigger and brighter than a typical Full Moon.

For a variety of reasons, the November Supermoon will come exceptionally close to Earth, the closest one in 70 years as a matter of fact. The last time Earth and Moon embraced each other so tightly was January 26, 1948, the year baseball great Babe Ruth died. But I’m getting ahead of myself. We’ll have much more on the Supermoon soon!

This photo shows the contrast between the bright, sunlit crescent and the ghostly earth-lit Moon. Several prominent craters are identified. Credit: Bob King
This photo shows the contrast between the bright, sunlit crescent and the ghostly earth-lit Moon. Several prominent craters are identified. Credit: Bob King

Tuesday night you have the pleasure of an eye-catching crescent filled with darkly luminous earthshine, sunlight reflected off our jolly blue and white globe into space that reflects from the Moon and back to Earth. Being twice reflected, the returning light is feeble, giving the Moon a haunted look.

The phases of the Moon and Earth are complementary; when one's a crescent, the other's nearly full. Credit: Bob King, Source: Stellarium
The phases of the Moon and Earth are complementary; when one’s a crescent, the other’s nearly full. Credit: Bob King, Source: Stellarium

Crescent phase is when earthshine is brightest. Why? Phases of Earth and Moon are complementary — when we see a crescent, an astronaut on the Moon would look back to see a nearly Full Earth in the sky. As you’ve already guessed, a Full Earth reflects a great deal more light than a half or crescent. Be sure to point your binoculars at the earth-lit Moon; the contrast of dusky earthlight adjacent to the sunlit crescent gives the scene a striking 3D look.

And if your glass can magnify ten times or more, you’ll get a sneak preview of several of the dark lunar seas or maria in the smoky light. Seas that will by and by ease into sunlight as the lunar terminator, the line separating day from night, rolls ever westward.

Through a small telescope, Venus appears three-quarters full in waning gibbous phase. Saturn's rings are still tipped wide open, and it's brightest moon, Titan, should be easy to spot Tuesday night in a small telescope. Source: Stellarium
Through a small telescope, Venus appears three-quarters full in waning gibbous phase. Saturn’s rings are still tipped wide open, and its brightest moon, Titan, should be easy to spot Tuesday night in a small telescope. Appearances are shown for Nov. 2. North is up and west to the right. Source: Stellarium

Have a small telescope? This may be one of your last easy chances at seeing the planet Saturn before it’s gobbled up by the western horizon. The ringed one has been sinking westward the past couple months and will soon be in conjunction with the Sun. I hate to see a good planet go, that’s why I’m happy to share that Venus will be with us a long, long time. Watch for this most brilliant of planets to rise higher in the southwestern sky as we approach Christmas and then swing to the north through early winter before dropping out of the evening sky in March 2017.

Thank you Venus for lighting our path on the snowy nights that lie ahead!

*** If you’d like learn more about how to find the planets, check out my new book, Night Sky with the Naked Eye. It covers all the wonderful things you can see in the night sky without special equipment. The book publishes on Nov. 8, but you can pre-order it right now at these online stores. Just click an icon to go to the site of your choice – Amazon, Barnes & Noble or Indiebound. It’s currently available at the first two outlets for a very nice discount:

night-sky-book-cover-amazon-anno-150x150night-sky-book-cover-bn-150x150night-sky-book-cover-indie-150x150

This Weekend: A Hunter’s Full Moon Kicks Off Supermoon Season

Ready for some lunar action of proxigean proportions? This weekend’s Full Moon ushers in that most (infamous?) of internet ready cultural memes: that of the Supermoon. This moniker stands above the Blood, Mini, and Full Moons both Black and Blue as the Full Moon of the year that folks can’t seem to get enough of, and astronomers love to hate.

But wait a minute: is this weekend’s Full Moon really the closest of the year?

Nope, though it’s close. But this month’s Full Moon does, however, usher in what we like to call Supermoon season.

Let us explain.

First, we’ll let you in on the Supermoon’s not so secret history. Yes, the meme arose over the last few decades, mostly due to the dastardly deeds of astrologers. Y’know, that well meaning friend/coworker/relative/anonymous person on Twitter that constantly mistakes your passion for the night sky as ‘astrology.’ Anyhow, the idea of the Supermoon has gained new life via the internet, and loosely translates as the closest Full Moon of the year. Sometimes, its dressed up with the slightly science-y sounding ‘a Full Moon along the closest 90% of its orbit’ (!) definition.

Now, to know the orbit of the Moon is to understand celestial mechanics. The Moon’s orbit is indeed elliptical, ranging from an average perigee (its closest point to the Earth) of 362,600 kilometers, to an apogee of 405,400 kilometers distant.

Fun fact: the time it takes the Moon to go from one perigee to the next (27.55 days) is one anomalistic month, a fine pedantic point to bring up to said relative/coworker the next time they refer to you as an astrologer.

And yes, the perigee Full Moon is a thing. We even like to throw about the quixotic term of the proxigean Moon, a time when tidal variations are at an extreme. Plus, all perigees are not created equal, but range from 356,400 kilometers to 370,400 kilometers distant, as the Earth-Moon system not only swings around its common barycenter, but the Sun also drags the entire orbit of the Moon around the Earth, completing one complete revolution every 8.85 years in what’s known as the precession of the line of apsides. Note that the nodes of the Moon’s orbit actually move in the opposite direction, with an 18.6 year period.

The complex motion of the Moon. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons/Geologician/Homunculus2.
The complex motion of the Moon. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons/Geologician/Homunculus2.

Yup, the motion of the Moon has given humanity a fine study in Celestial Mechanics 101. Anyhow, we contend that a more succinct definition for a perigee ‘Supermoon’ is simply a Full Moon that falls within 24 hours of perigee. Under this definition, the Full Moon this Sunday on October 16th occurring at 4:23 Universal Time (UT) certainly meets the criterion, occurring 19 hours and 24 minutes before perigee… as does the Full Moon of November 14th (2.4 hours from perigee) and December 13th (just under 24 hours from perigee).

For extra fun, said November 14th perigee Full Moon is the closest in 30 years; expect Supermoon lunacy to ensue.

A fun place to play with Full and New Moons vs perigee and apogee past present and future is Fourmilab’s Lunar Apogee and Perigee Calculator. Hey, it’s what we do for fun. Looking over these cycles, you’ll notice a pattern of ‘supermoon seasons’ emerge, which moves forward along the calendar about a lunation a year. (that’s our friend the precession of the line of apsides at work again).

(another fun fact: the time it takes for the Moon to return to a similar phase—for example, Full back to Full—is 29.5 days, and known as a synodic month.)

The Full Moon does appear slightly larger at perigee than apogee, to the tune of 29.3′ versus 34.1′ across. This change is enough to notice with the unaided eye, though the Moon is deceptively smaller than it appears: you could, for example, line up 654 ‘Supermoons’ around the local horizon from end to end.

A 'super' vs average Full Moon. Image credit: Marco Langbroek.
A ‘super’ vs average Full Moon. Image credit: Marco Langbroek.

The October Moon is also referred to by the Algonquin Native Americans as the ‘Hunter’s Moon,’ a time to use that extra illumination to track down vital sustenance as the harsh winter approaches. Very occasionally, the Harvest Full Moon falling near the September southward equinox falls in early October (as occurs next year in 2017) and bumps the Hunter’s Moon from its monthly slot.

Be sure to stalk the rising Hunter’s Moon near perigee this weekend. Of course, we’ll be shooting at our prey with nothing more than a camera, as the Full Moon rises from behind the Andalusian foothills.

April Lunacy: Getting Ready for the Full ‘Mini-Moon’

2015 Mini-Moon

Do you welcome the extra evening light of the Full Moon, or curse the additional light pollution? Either way, this week’s Full Moon on Friday April 22nd is special. It’s the smallest Full Moon of 2016, something we here at Universe Today have christened the Mini-Moon.

Mini-Moon 2016: This year’s Mini-Moon falls on April 22nd at 5:25 Universal Time (UT), just 13 hours and 19 minutes after lunar apogee the evening prior at 16:06 UT on April 21st. Though apogee on the 21st is 406,350 km distant – a bit on the far end, but the third most distant for the year by 300 km — this week’s Full Moon is the closest to apogee for 2016 time-wise. The 2015 Mini-Moon was even closer, in the 10 hour range, but you’ll have to wait until December 10th, 2030 to find a closer occurance.

Image credit and copyright:
The Mini-Moon versus the 2011 Supermoon. Image credit and copyright: Ken Lord.

What is the Mini-Moon, you might ask? As with the often poorly defined Supermoon, we like to eschew the ambiguous ‘90% of its orbit’ definition, and simply refer to it as a Full Moon occurring within 24 hours of lunar apogee, or its farthest point from the Earth in its orbit.

Fun fact: the 29.55 day period from perigee to perigee (or lunar apogee-to-apogee) is known as an anomalistic month.

Image credit: Dave Dickinson
Mini-Moons by year for the remainder of the decade. Note that the 2020 Full Moon is also the 2nd of the month… A ‘Mini-Blue Halloween Moon?’ Image credit: Dave Dickinson

Thank our Moon’s wacky orbit for all this lunacy. Inclined 5.14 degrees relative to the ecliptic plane, the Moon returns to the same phase (say, Full back to Full) every 29.53 days, known as a synodic month. The Moon can appear 33.5′ across during perigee, and shrink to 29.4′ across near apogee.

The appearance of the Moon through one synodic period. Note that in addition to rocking back and forth (libration) and side-to-side (nutation), the Moon appears to swell and shrink in size. Wikimedia Commons graphic in the public Domain.
The appearance of the Moon through one synodic period. Note that in addition to rocking back and forth (libration) and side-to-side (nutation), the Moon appears to swell and shrink in size. Wikimedia Commons graphic in the Public Domain.

And don’t fear the ‘Green Moon,’ and rumors going ’round ye’ ole internet that promise a jaded Moon will occur in April or May; this is 100% non-reality based, seeking to join the legends of Super, Blood, and Full Moons, Black and Blue.

Image faked by: David Dickinson.
No. Just. No. Image faked by: David Dickinson.

The April Full Moon is also known as the Full Pink Moon to the Algonquin Indians. The April Full Moon, can, on occasion be the Full Moon ushering in Easter (known as the Paschal Moon) as per the rule established by the 325 AD council of Nicaea, stating Easter falls on the first Sunday after the first Full Moon after the fixed date of the Vernal Equinox of March 21st. Easter can therefore fall as late as April 25th, as next occurs on 2038. The future calculation of Easter by the Church gets the Latin supervillain-sounding name of Computus.

April 21st. Image credit: Stellarium
Looking east on the evening of April 21st. Image credit: Stellarium

Of course, the astronomical vernal equinox doesn’t always fall on March 21st, and to complicate matters even further, the Eastern Orthodox Church uses the older Julian Calendar and therefore, Easter doesn’t always align with the modern western Gregorian calendar used by the Roman Catholic Church.

The Moon can create further complications in modern timekeeping as well.

Here’s one wonderful example we recently learned of in our current travels. The Islamic calendar is exclusively based on the synodic cycle of the Moon, and loses 11 days a year in relation to the Gregorian solar calendar. Now, Morocco officially adopted Daylight Saving (or Summer) Time in 2007, opting to make the spring forward during the last weekend of March, as does the European Union to the north. However, the country reverts back to standard time during the month of Ramadan… otherwise, the break in the daily fast during summer months would fall towards local midnight.

You can see a curious future situation developing. In 2016, Ramadan runs from sundown June 5th, to July 4th. Each cycle begins with the sighting of the thin waxing crescent Moon. However, as Ramadan falls earlier, you’ll get a bizarre scenario such as 2022, when Morocco springs forward on March 27th, only to fall back to standard time six days later on April 2nd on the start of Ramadan, only to jump forward again one lunation later on April 30th!

Morocco is the only country we’ve come across in our travels that follows such a convoluted convention of timekeeping.

Fun fact #2: the next ‘Mini-Moon’ featuring a lunar eclipse occurs on July 27th 2018.

And the Spring Mini-Moon sets us up for Supermoon season six months later this coming October-November-December. Though lunar perigees less than 24 hours from Full usually occur as a trio, an apogee less than 24 hours from Full is nearly always a solitary affair, owing to the slightly slower motion of the Moon at a farther distance.

Don’t miss the shrunken Mini-Moon rising on the evenings of Thursday April 21st and Friday 22nd, coming to a sky near you.

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

Blues for the Second Full Moon of July

Brace yourselves for Blue Moon madness. The month of July 2015 hosts two Full Moons: One on July 2nd and another coming right up this week on Friday, July 31st at 10:43 Universal Time (UT)/6:43 AM EDT.

In modern day vernacular, the occurrence of two Full Moons in one calendar month has become known as a ‘Blue Moon.’ This is a result of the synodic period (the amount of time it takes for the Moon to return to a like phase, in this case Full back to Full) of 29.5 Earth days being less than every calendar month except February.

In the ‘two Full Moons in one month’ sense, the last time a Blue Moon occurred was on August 31st, 2012, and the next is January 31st, 2018. The next time a Blue Moon occurs in the month of July is 2034, and the last July Blue Moon was 2004.

We say “once in a blue Moon,” as if it’s a rarity, but as you can see, they’re fairly frequent, occurring nearly once every 2-3 years or so.

Now, we’ll let you in on a secret. Like its modern internet meme cousin the ‘Super-Moon,’ astronomers don’t sit in mountain top observatories discussing the vagaries of the Blue Moon. In fact, astronomers rarely like to observe during the weeks surrounding the light-polluting Full Moon, and often compile data from the comfort of their university offices rather than visit mountaintop observatories these days…

The modern Blue Moon is now more of a cultural phenomenon. We’ve written previously about how an error brought us to the current ‘two Full Moons in one month definition.’ A more convoluted old timey definition was introduced in ye ole Maine Farmer’s Almanac circa 1930s as “the third Full Moon in an astronomical season with four.”

Legend has it that the Maine Farmer’s Almanac denoted this pesky extra seasonal Full Moon with ‘blue’ instead of black ink… to our knowledge, no examples exist to support this intriguing tale. Anyone have any old almanacs in the attic holding such a revelation out there?

The ghostly glow of the gibbous moon in Jean-Francois Millet's The Sheepfold. Image Credit: Public Domain
The ghostly glow of the gibbous moon in Jean-Francois Millet’s The Sheepfold. Image Credit: Public Domain

We’ve also laid out the occurrences for both types of Blue Moons for the remainder of the decade, as well as its New Moon cousin and internet meme to be, the Black Moon.

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The rising waxing gibbous Moon on the night of September 23rd, 1950. Image credit: Stellarium

Of course, the Moon most likely won’t appear to be physically blue, no matter what friends/family/co-workers/anonymous persons on Twitter say. The Moon can actually appear blue, as it did on September 23rd, 1950 for much of the eastern United States and Canada through the haze of several forest fires in western Canada. The Moon was actually at waxing gibbous phase on the evening of this phenomenon, and as far as we can tell, no photographic documentation of this event exists. Spaceweather, has, however gathered a gallery of blue moon eyewitness reports over the years, including a few images. This occurs when moonlight is filtered through suspended oil drops about a micrometer in diameter which scattered yellow and red light, leaving a Moon with a ghostly indigo glow.

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The 2012 Blue Moon as seen rising from Hudson, Florida. Image credit: Dave Dickinson

So there’s definitely another challenge to catch and photograph a truly ‘Blue Moon’ under such rare atmospheric circumstances… and remember, the Moon doesn’t have to be near Full to do it!

Watch that Moon, as we’ve got a few red letter dates coming up through the remainder of 2015.  First up: the Supermoon season cometh in August, as we have a series of three Full Moons falling less than 24 hours from perigee on August 29th, September 28th, and October 27th. Our money is on that middle one as having the potential to generate the most online lunacy, as it’s also the last  total lunar eclipse of the current tetrad of four total lunar eclipses for 2014 and 2015, a ‘super-blood moon eclipse’ anyone? Though the dead won’t rise from the grave to mark such an occasion, you can be sure that many a sky aficionado will stumble zombie-like into the office the next day after pulling an all-nighter for the last good North American total lunar eclipse until 2018.

And it’s worth noting the path of the Moon, as it reaches its shallow mid-point in the last half of 2015. The Moon’s orbit is tilted about five degrees relative to the ecliptic, meaning that it can ride anywhere from 18 degrees—as it does this year—to 28 degrees from the celestial equator. This cycle takes about 19 years to complete, and a wide-ranging ‘long nights Moon’ last occurred in 2006, and will next occur in 2025.

A 'mock Blue Moon...'
A ‘mock Blue Moon…’ induced by use of a military flashlight filter. Image credit: Dave Dickinson

So don’t fear the Blue Moon, but be sure to take a stroll under its light this coming Friday… and perhaps enjoy a frosty Blue Moon beer on the eve of the sultry month of August.

A Splash of Color Across the Supermoon

A software engineer from Florida recently captured an image of the day-old supermoon in September that clearly conveys color variations across its surface.  Such variations are often imperceptible, but the brightness and color differences were digitally enhanced to make them easier to discern.    The color variations are indicative of compositional differences across the Lunar surface (e.g., iron content and impact ejecta).

A supermoon is a full Moon that is observed during the satellite’s closest approach to Earth.  The Moon’s orbit is described by a marginally elongated ellipse rather than a circle, and hence the Moon’s distance from Earth is not constant. The Moon will achieve its largest apparent diameter in the Sky during that closest approach, which in part gives rise to the supermoon designation.

Noel Carboni, who imaged the supermoon a day after the full phase, told Universe Today that he, “created the image using 17 frames shot with a Canon EOS-40D, which was mounted to a 10-inch Meade telescope.”  He added that, “each exposure was 1/40th of a second, and a workstation was used to stitch the image which is more than 17,000 pixels square.”

Carboni noted that, “Ever since the 1980s, I have harbored a growing interest in digital imaging. It is exciting that nowadays affordable and high quality image capture equipment are available to consumers, and that formidable digital image processing tools are available to just plain folks!”

His astrophotography may be well known to readers of Universe Today, as his work has been featured on NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) and elsewhere.  A gallery of Carboni’s astrophotography can be viewed at his webpage.

Readers desiring to learn more about the Moon and its surface can join the Moon Zoo Citizen Science Project, and glance at images from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.   The Moon Zoo project aims to inspect millions of images captured by that instrument, which will invariably help scientists advance our understanding of the Moon.