Tag Archives: moon

SciComm experiment: #SuperBlueBloodMoon vs #LunarEclipse

As I expected the news about the Lunar Eclipse happening on the 31st of January 2018 was in the media and social media all around the world… even though in many countries (Europe, South America) the Lunar Eclipse was not visible.

In my humble opinion, many of the articles in general outlets and media were not very well written and actually very hype, which created that people were actually confused about what was happening.

Of course, I complained a lot about how the news were presented in the media. I’m a huge defender of inviting people to look at the sky (I’m continuously doing it!) but not exaggerating what people should expect to see. In this sense I’m an “old-schooler” as I really consider facts and naming things properly are important.

After having some discussions with friends in social media about all of this, I decided to create a poll in Twitter to explore this more (thanks @DarkSapiens and @vrruiz).

Furthermore, following the “noise” in Twitter, I had the feeling that young people care less about the actual name of the phenomenon than older people. That is, young people didn’t dislike naming the event as a Super Blue Blood Moon.

And that was the beginning. As a scientist I wanted to test if my hypothesis was right.

Hypothesis: At least in Twitter, as I see in my timeline, young astronomers/science communicators seem to prefer or at least are less molest with the term #SuperBlueBloodMoon than old astronomers/science communicators.

Experiment in Tweet: I’m testing an hypothesis. Could you please choose your age range (=older or younger than 33) and if you like/dislike or prefer ? I’ll use this to write a post about using hype in astro news. Thanks and please share.

Below is the screenshot with the question and the results. Huge thanks to the 580 people who contributed in this poll (11% of my followers).

The conclusions that we can get from these results, that as I’ve said apply for my vision in Twitter, which is biased for the people who I follow or follow me, are the following.

First, the majority of my followers/people who answered this question are older than 32 years (60%). Fair enough.

Second, combined, only 19% of the answers agree with “I like SBBM”. I’m happy about this. And this was actually expected, because there should be a huge bias in the people that follow me in Twitter.

But the interesting thing for me is that, attending to these results, younger people like SBBM more than older people. The ratio between YES/NO is 25% for <33 years and only 15% for >=33 years.

Without any additional statistical analysis including uncertainties, this result seems to support my hypothesis and the reason of this experiment: young astronomers/science communicators seem to prefer or at least are less molest with the term #SuperBlueBloodMoon than old astronomers/science communicators.

But I also asked two extra questions.

Question 1: Also, should Media/Astronomers use SBBM= instead of LE= to publicise the event and reach a wider audience? Thanks!

The results here are also interesting. 3 people in 5 agree that using SBBM is hype (yes!). I was expecting this answer would have been around 2/3, but it is still a good proportion.

In any case, I also got some feedback about this:

27% of the answers (a bit more than 1 in 4 people) support using SBBM in the title of the news as long as the facts are explained in the text (which was rarely the case).

Very few people (7%) support using SBBM to attract people. And attending to the results provided by the experiment above, the majority of the answers are coming from young astronomers, as example my AAO colleague and friend Becky Brown:

My conclusion here: although some people think than using SBBM is a good thing to attract people to the news or observing the sky (but see next question), the majority of the people consider that SBBM is hype and should not be used, unless the facts are well explained in the text of the news.

Question 2: What do you consider is the most important consequence of using instead of for publicising the event?

Well, here 61% of the answers agree that “it is not that good to do that” as science/pseudoscience mix and people were confused. And indeed people were confused! During the last week I’ve been giving some virtual talks in Spain with students, and I received the question “what was the SBBM?”. They didn’t know it was a lunar eclipse, and they show some connections with astrology (!!!).

A couple of extra examples in the UK and Australia were provided as comments by two astrophysicists:

Still, 27% (more than 1 in 4) of the answers agree on using SBBM for getting the extra attention by Media (I assume that considering facts are explained, something that didn’t happen very often).

Only 12% of the answers agree that using SBBM instead of Lunar Eclipse encourage people to look the sky.

My conclusion to this question: although it might help to encourage people to look at the sky and for sure will attract the attention of the media, we should refrain to use SBBM as it confuses people at the same time that mixes science and pseudoscience.

What are your thoughts?

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The “Super Blood Blue Moon” is just a lunar eclipse

In the last few days I’ve already answered some few emails and questions in social media about the Super Blood Blue Moon happening on the night from 31st January to 1st February 2018. What is this? Is this really important?

Short answer: No, it is not! This is just a lunar eclipse. The rest is hype to sell the story.

Visions of a Total Lunar Eclipse within clouds - 8 October 2014 - Sydney

Visions of a Total Lunar Eclipse within clouds – 8 October 2014 – Sydney. More information and high resolution images in my Flickr. Credit: Ángel R. López-Sánchez.

Long answer: Let me use an email I wrote yesterday replying the questions asked by a journalist about this astronomical event.

1. Can you please define “super moon” “blood moon” and “blue” moon as they occur individually?

—> Supermoon: this is a term that many astronomers (me included) don’t like, as it was introduced by an astrologer (not an astronomer) but it is now very popular. It is just the moment the full moon is happening near the perigee (the Moon in its closest point to Earth). But, that is the important thing, the difference in size of a “supermoon” with respect an average moon is that a supermoon is ~5-6% larger than the average moon. That is almost nothing!!! Many people are confused with the “14% difference” between the supermoon and the micromoon (when the moon is near the apogee, the farthest point to the Earth).

I insist: it is VERY difficult for our naked eye to distinguish a supermoon from an “average” moon.

You can read a lot about this in the post I wrote two years ago and also in the second episode entitled “Blueberry Moon” of the new science podcast “The Skyentists” produced by Kirsten Banks and me.

—> Blood moon: If we astronomers don’t like the term “supermoon”, we really hate the name of “blood moon”. This is just a lunar eclipse!!

—> Blue moon: the now “standard” definition of a blue moon is when a second full moon is happening within the same calendar month. That is, it was full moon on Jan 2nd, the second full moon this month in Jan 31st is a blue moon.

HOWEVER, strictly talking THIS IS NOT TRUE FOR EASTERN AUSTRALIA (NSW, Tasmania, Victoria) and New Zealand, as the moment of the full moon is actually at 00:26am Feb 1st (Sydney/Melbourne time). It is true for Queensland (at 11:26pm Jan 31st), Alice Spring (at 10:56pm Jan 31st) and Perth (9:56pm Jan 31st).

In any case, the ONLY IMPORTANT real astronomical event is that this is a lunar eclipse (the rest is added to create some hype).

You can get plenty of information about the lunar eclipse in this webpage in timeanddate.com and also in this PDF file from NASA Lunar Eclipses.

All the important information for the lunar eclipse happening on the 31st Jan 2018. Credit: F. Espenak / NASA. Here the PDF file.

Australian astronomers have also written about this lunar eclipse. I recommend to have a look to this nice article published by Tanya Hill in The Conversation and also this article by Alan Duffy in Australia’s Science Channel

2. Is this the first time a super blue blood moon has occurred in 150 years?

Probably not, I don’t know, we actually don’t care about this much… It is just a lunar eclipse!!!!

3. How significant is this lunar event?

As I said, it is just a lunar eclipse. That is the point. The rest is added.

4. We are in north-west Victoria. What can people expect to see?

It does not matter where you are in Australia (or in the world, as long as it is night) to see this event. The only differences will be the local weather conditions… if the weather is good, you’ll see a very nice lunar eclipse. It is a perfect opportunity to enjoy the sky!!

5. Are there any tips to getting the best view of the eclipse, or what would be the best times to see it?

The best moment to see the eclipse is when the moon is completely covered by the Earth’s shadow. This happens between 11:52pm and 1:08pm, with the maximum eclipse at 12:30am. You’ll see a red-orange moon in the sky, pretty spectacular.

Addendum 31st Jan: I’ve been using the hashtag #itisjustalunareclipse in social media to say that, at the end… it is just a lunar eclipse!

References:

31 January 2018 — Total Lunar Eclipse in http://www.timeandate.com
PDF file with all info of the lunar eclipse from NASA Lunar Eclipses.
Supermoons, post published in this blog, 11 Nov 2016
A blue blood supermoon is coming, by Alan Duffy in Australia’s Science Channel, 24 Jan 2018
The next Full Moon brings a lunar eclipse, but is it a Super Blood Blue Moon as well? That depends…, Tanya Hill in The Conversation, 29 Jan 2018.
A beginner’s guide to the Moon, Ian Musgrave and Genelle Weule in ABC News, 31 Jan 2018.
The “Trifecta” Lunar Eclipse on January 31st, great article by Kelly Beatty in Sky & Telescope, 29 Jan 2018.

Image

Crescent Moon and AAT

Crescent Moon and AAT

The Anglo-Australian Telescope (AAT, Siding Spring Observatory, NSW, Australia) is ready for another night observing with the SAMI instrument. A crescent Moon is seen towards the west through the opening of the dome.

Photo taken using a CANON EOS 5D Mark III, 0.6 seconds integration, 70mm lens at f2.8, 400 ISO, Thursday 2nd March 2017, 8pm AEST.

More sizes, including highest resolution image, in my Flickr.

Credit: Ángel R. López-Sánchez (AAO/MQU).

Image

Almost full moon and Sydney Tower

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A 97.8% illuminated moon rises over Sydney on Sunday 13th November 2016. I checked for a nice spot to get the photo of this almost full moon (with a supermoon happening tomorrow) crossing behind the famous Sydney Tower.

The image was taken at 7:15pm Sydney time (8:15 UTC) using my CANON EOS 5D Mark III with a 70-200 mm lens at 200mm, f4.5, 100 ISO and 1/800 seconds. The Moon was at a distance of 355 806 km and had an apparent size of 33.6 arcmin. It was only 17 degrees over the horizon.

More info and high resolution images:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/angelrls/30651527540/

Credit: Ángel R. López-Sánchez (AAO/MQU)

Supermoons

During the last few days the news are talking about the “Supermoon” happening on Monday 14th November. The reports (some examples here, here and here) say that “it will be the brightest Full Moon in years“. Even we at the Australian Astronomical Observatory have been asked about this “very rare phenomenon“. But how much is true about all of this?

Let’s take a look. First of all we should have clear that the Moon, as any other small body moving around a larger body, has an elliptical orbit.

Diagram explaining the movement of the Moon around the Earth. Not in scale. Credit: Ángel R. López-Sánchez. Moon image: Paco Bellido.

Diagram explaining the movement of the Moon around the Earth following an elliptical orbit and defining the perigee and the apogee. Not in scale. Credit: Ángel R. López-Sánchez. Moon image: Paco Bellido.

Planets also move around the Sun following elliptical orbits, as it was discovered by the great astronomer (and the first real astrophysicist in History, although he also had to work as an astrologer to get a salary) Johannes Kepler at the beginning of the 17th century.

This means that sometimes the Moon is closer to the Earth and sometimes it is farther from the Earth, just depending on where it is located within its orbit. The point on the Moon’s orbit closest to Earth is called the perigee (at an average distance of 362 600 km) and the point farthest away is the apogee (at an average distance of 405 400 km). On average the Moon-Earth distance is about 382 900 kilometers.

Therefore, just because of its distance, the apparent size of the Moon is a bit larger than usual when it is at the perigee, while it seems a bit smaller than usual when the Moon is at the apogee. An image can explain this much better than words:

Comparison of the apparent size of the Moon when it is located at the perigee (left) and when it is at the apogee (right). Credit: Paco Bellido.

Comparison of the apparent size of the Moon when it is located at the perigee (left) and when it is at the apogee (right). Credit: Paco Bellido.

These photos were taken by the Spanish astrophotographer and friend Paco Bellido in 2014 and 2015 from Córdoba (Spain), my natal city, and clearly show the different apparent size that the Moon has at the perigee (left) when compared to where it is at the apogee (right).

What does happen when the full moon coincides with the perigee? Well, that is a supermoon! The next time this will occur is next Tuesday, 15th November, 12:52am Sydney time. In that moment the Moon will be ~13% larger and ~30% brighter than a full moon happening in the apogee (a “micromoon“). From Sydney (and Australia) the best moment to see it will be on the evening of Monday 14th November, and actually many people are planning to enjoy watching the “supermoon” appearing over the Pacific Ocean at the dusk from Sydney’s famous beaches and clifts.

Regarding this, it is important to say that our brain tricks us when observing the Moon or the Sun close to the horizon: they do appear to be larger than they do higher up in the sky. This is called the Moon illusion, some studies suggest that the perception is that the Moon is almost 3 times larger near the horizon that when located near the zenith.

Supermoon over Espejo's Castle (Córdoba, Spain) on 20th March 2011. This photo, taken by Paco Bellido, has been widely used in many places since then. Now people still try to get it too with their cameras... More info (in Spanish) in "El beso en la luna". Credit: Paco Bellido.

Supermoon over Espejo’s Castle (Córdoba, Spain) on 20th March 2011. This photo, taken by Paco Bellido, has been widely used in many places since then. Now people still try to reproduce this photo with their cameras when full moon… More info (in Spanish) in Paco’s blog “El beso en la luna“. Credit: Paco Bellido.

However, I must insist that the term “supermoon” does not come from Astronomy but from the pseudoscience of astrology. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why many people are talking about this. The term “supermoon” was coined by the US astrologer Richard Nolle in 1979, who defined it as ‘a New or a Full Moon that occurs when the Moon is at or near (within 90% of) its closest approach to Earth in its orbit’.

Nolle, who associated supermoons to catastrophes without any scientific evidence that this was true, didn’t know that we astronomers already had a scientific term to describe this alignment: the perigee-syzygy of the Earth-Moon-Sun system. The word “syzygy” means a perfect alignment between three bodies, that are in a perfect straight line. The most famous examples of syzygies are the lunar and solar eclipses, when the alignment of the Sun, Earth and Moon happens on the lunar nodes (the two points where the plane of the orbit of the Moon around the Earth and the plane of orbit of the Earth around the Sun intercept).

As other “expressions”, such as “blood moon” (a lunar eclipse) or “blue moon” (the second full moon within the same calendar month), the term “supermoon” has become very popular lately, perhaps also because all the action in social media. But these definitions are not official astronomical terms. Indeed, a “blue moon” does not have a proper astronomical definition, and may happen or not depending on the time zone the observer is located.

In any case all the excitement about the supermoon happening on Tuesday 15th (for us in Sydney, but for the majority of the world on Monday 14th) it that the exact moment of the full moon (12:52 am Sydney time) is really close to the perigee, happening at a distance of only 356 536 km from us. The supermoon was not that close since 26th January 1948, when it was at 356 460 km, and it will not be that close till 26 November 2034, when it happens at 356 472 km.

Check the numbers, please. 356 532 km, 356 460 km, 356 472 km… they all just differ in tens of kilometers! That is only a difference of a 0.02% ! Even considering the distances happening on other supermoons (I forgot to say we typically have 2-3 supermoons per year, last 17th October and next 13 Dec will be also supermoons), the differences are just within around 500 km, what is translated into a difference of only 0.14%.

Illustration: Supermoons: can you see what is the largest? Eight supermoons between 2015 and 2018, images have been scaled to the apparent size of the Moon considering its distance from Sydney when the full moon is happening. The dates are times indicated are the moment of the Full Moon. The sizes and distances are computed assuming the observer is located in Sydney, Australia. This is an illustration, not real photos taken from Sydney (I can't travel to the future!). The original Moon image is the photo of the "micromoon" that Spanish astrophotographer Paco Pellido took on 5 March 2015 from Córdoba, Spain, which is the image I use in this post. An image without labels can be found here. The high resolution image is available here. Credit: Ángel R. López-Sánchez, Moon Photo Credit: Paco Bellido.

Illustration: Supermoons: can you see what is the largest? Eight supermoons between 2015 and 2018, images have been scaled to the apparent size of the Moon considering its distance from Sydney when the full moon is happening. The dates are times indicated are the moment of the Full Moon. The sizes and distances are computed assuming the observer is located in Sydney, Australia.
This is an illustration, not real photos taken from Sydney (I can’t travel to the future!). The original Moon image is the photo of the “micromoon” that Spanish astrophotographer Paco Pellido took on 5 March 2015 from Córdoba, Spain, which is the image I use in this post. An image without labels can be found here. The high resolution image is available here. Credit: Ángel R. López-Sánchez, Moon Photo Credit: Paco Bellido.

Let me say it again: the difference of the distance between the Earth and the Moon during a “supermoon”, with these happening typically 2-3 times per year (for full moon, 4-5 times per year in total including new moon), is only the 0.14%. Do you think you’ll be able to notice this with your naked eye?

However, giving numbers (talking quantitatively) the media can say “it is a rare event, the closest supermoon in almost 70 years“. But in practice you’ll not notice a thing. It will be a supermoon essentially similar to all of those we have every year.

Distance from the observer to the Moon depending on when rising or setting (top) or when it is near the zenith (bottom). Credit: Ángel R. López-Sánchez. Moon image: Paco Bellido.

Distance from the observer to the Moon depending on when rising or setting (top) or when it is near the zenith (bottom). Credit: Ángel R. López-Sánchez. Moon image: Paco Bellido.

There is more. Besides the lunar illusion, the moon is actually a bit further away from us when it is rising or setting than when it is near the zenith, as the image above clearly shows. The difference on the distance between the observer and the Moon may vary between few thousand an twelve thousand kilometers. This is called “diurnal effect” as it is, indeed,  larger than the difference of few hundreds of kilometers found for supermoons. In both cases, I insist, the differences on the apparent size of the Moon can’t be noted with the naked eye.

Here again it is important to have a bit of critical thought about what all of this means. In any case this “supermoon” is a great excuse to forget about our domestic problems, look at the sky and be amazed by all the beautiful things that are hiding among the stars.

More info:

PS: Ah, yes, a curiosity:  it is me who will be observing at the Anglo-Australian Telescope (AAT) the night of Monday 14th till Tuesday 15th… That is, quantitatively talking this will be the worst night since the AAT was built to be observing there…

Update 17 November:

I’ve included the illustration comparing the size of the Moon for 8 supermoons, as seen from Sydney. This started as a game in social media on Monday. I also prepared this illustration showing the sizes of the 12 full moons in 2016, as seen from Sydney. Do you identify the micromoon and the 3 supermoons?

Illustration: Full Moons in 2016 as seen from Sydney. All the full moons in 2016, scaled in size following the Moon's apparent size as seen from Sydney. The micromoon corresponds to 22nd Apr (top right) and the thre supermoons are 16 Oct, 14 Nov (15 Nov Sydney time) and 14 Dec. This is an illustration, not real photos taken from Sydney (I can't travel to the future!). The original Moon image is the photo of the "micromoon" that Spanish astrophotographer Paco Pellido took on 5 March 2015 from Córdoba, Spain, which is the image I use in this post. The image without labels is here. A high resolution image is available in my Flickr. Credit: Ángel R. López-Sánchez. Moon photo credit: Paco Bellido.

Illustration: Full Moons in 2016 as seen from Sydney. All the full moons in 2016, scaled in size following the Moon’s apparent size as seen from Sydney. The micromoon corresponds to 22nd Apr (top right) and the thre supermoons are 16 Oct, 14 Nov (15 Nov Sydney time) and 14 Dec. This is an illustration, not real photos taken from Sydney (I can’t travel to the future!). The original Moon image is the photo of the “micromoon” that Spanish astrophotographer Paco Pellido took on 5 March 2015 from Córdoba, Spain, which is the image I use in this post. The image without labels is here. A high resolution image is available in my Flickr. Credit: Ángel R. López-Sánchez. Moon photo credit: Paco Bellido.

Visions of a Total Lunar Eclipse within clouds

DP ENGLISH: This story belongs to the series “Double Post” which indicates posts that have been written both in English in The Lined Wolf and in Spanish in El Lobo Rayado.

DP ESPAÑOL: Esta historia entra en la categoría “Doble Post” donde indico artículos que han sido escritos tanto en español en El Lobo Rayado como en inglés en The Lined Wolf.

Last night half of the world (Eastern Asia, Australasia, Pacific and the Americas) enjoyed a total lunar eclipse. Again clouds were moving around over Sydney during all the day, I actually see the moon rising in the evening and in just few minutes moving into the clouds. The sky was almost completely covered when the eclipse started, at around 20:15 local time. I was fearing that, as it happened with the partial solar eclipse visible in Sydney last 29th April, I would not be able to get any useful image of the eclipse.

In any case, as I did for the occultation of Saturn by the Moon last May, I set up my telescope in the backyard and prepared everything for taking some photos of the event. Although I followed the eclipse almost completely, the clouds only allowed me to get good images in three occasions. These are the results:

Visions of a Total Lunar Eclipse within clouds.
8 October 2014 from Sydney. Data obtained using Telescope Skywatcher Black Diamond D = 80 mm, f = 600 mm, with a CANON EOS 600D at primary focus. The Red Moon compiles 40 frames taken at 1/3 s & ISO 800. Stacking using Lynkeos software, final processing with Photoshop. Credit: Á.R.L-S. (AAO/MQ)


It is not too much but I hope you like it. I will wait for the next total lunar eclipse to try to get the time-lapse sequence of all the event.

Sequence of the occultation of Saturn by the Moon

DP ENGLISH: This story belongs to the series “Double Post” which indicates posts that have been written both in English in The Lined Wolf and in Spanish in El Lobo Rayado.

DP ESPAÑOL: Esta historia entra en la categoría “Doble Post” donde indico artículos que han sido escritos tanto en español en El Lobo Rayado como en inglés en The Lined Wolf.

Today Sunday I’ve used some of my free time to process the images I took last Wednesday, when Saturn was occulted by an almost full Moon. These are my two final images showing how Saturn first disappears behind the Moon and it reappears an hour later.

The Moon occults Saturn I: Saturn disappears.
14 May 2014 from Sydney. Data obtained using Telescope Skywatcher Black Diamond D = 80 mm, f = 600 mm, 20 mm eyepiece + CANON EOS 600D. All times are given in Universal Time, add 10 hours to get the local time in Sydney (AEST) that date. Images of Saturn obtained combining many frames at 1/60 and 1600 ISO using Lynkeos software + Photoshop. Image of the Moon obtained combining 20 best frames using Photoshop. Credit: Á.R.L-S. (AAO/MQ)


The Moon occults Saturn I: Saturn disappears.
14 May 2014 from Sydney. Data obtained using Telescope Skywatcher Black Diamond D = 80 mm, f = 600 mm, 20 mm eyepiece + CANON EOS 600D. All times are given in Universal Time, add 10 hours to get the local time in Sydney (AEST) that date. Images of Saturn obtained combining many frames at 1/100 and 1600 ISO using Lynkeos software + Photoshop. Image of the Moon obtained combining 11 best frames using Photoshop. Credit: Á.R.L-S. (AAO/MQ)

Getting nice images of Saturn was much trickier than I expected: the setup I used the other night it is not the best to observe Saturn, as more magnification and a good tracking are needed. On the other hand, the Moon was very bright so I had to use short exposition times, and hence Saturn appeared very dim. At the end I manage to get a kind of “master Saturn” combining the best frames I took during the night and later combine it with the data of each position to get the final view of Saturn at each time. For the Moon it was much easier, although you’ll perhaps realize that the second image is somewhat better than the first. The reason is that some parts of the Moon were actually saturated with the 1/60 seconds exposures, and that is why I later used 1/100 seconds for getting Saturn reappearing. In any case, I hope you like them.