Category: Astronomy

What is a Harvest Moon?

Harvest Moon, Photo by PH Morton

What is a Harvest Moon?

Harvest moon is a full moon.

It heralds the coming of autumn when farmers are believed to take in their harvests from the field before the frost gets to them.

What makes a harvest moon more special than being just a full moon is that it appears larger and orange and it occurs in September during the autumnal equinox in the Northern Hemisphere.

That is the autumnal equinox?

It is that time when the earth’s equator is directly in line with the center of the sun.

As the Northern hemisphere has its autumn equinox, the Southern Hemisphere is starting its Spring equinox.

 

25 September 2018 – Harvest Moon

Supermoon Lunar Eclipse

Supermoon Lunar Eclipse

As astronomy is a hobby & keen interest of mine, I eagerly awaited the lunar eclipse. This lunar eclipse had more publicity due to the fact that it coincided with the appearance of the so-called Supermoon.

Lunar Eclipse

Astronomers don’t really prefer to call it a supermoon.

 

The term would be perigee new moon or perigee full moon.

When the moon change in its orbit and is closest to earth, this is called a perigee (within 98 per cent closest to the earth).

When it is a full moon and it is 98 per cent of its closest orbit (perigee) to the earth this is commonly called a supermoon. There can be 4-6 supermoons in a year.

There won’t be a perigee full moon in 2017 because the full moon and perigee won’t realign again (after November 14, 2016) until January 2, 2018. The next supermoon lunar eclipse will be in 2033.

As I have just retired from my work career,  I could fortunately stay up Sunday evening to the early hours of Monday morning. 🙂 I had my trusty camera ready and waited in the garden. weather conditions were ideal, as not too cold after midnight with some wisps of white cloud that conveniently disappeared; so a clear dark sky for the show to begin!

Around 2am, the top left of the moon was starting to be covered by earth’s shadow as it crept across the moon’s surface.

Lunar Eclipse begins - Photo by PH Morton

Lunar Eclipse begins – Photo by PH Morton

 

Totality and complete earth cover happened at around 3 am.

Total Lunar Eclipse (Totality) - Photo by PH Morton

Total Lunar Eclipse (Totality) – Photo by PH Morton

totality

A lunar eclipse totality lasts much longer than the spectacular  solar eclipse that is over in a few minutes. I watched the eclipse for 3 hours. The moon’s surface facing the earth becomes an amazing  coppery colour. Some cultures call it a ‘Blood Moon’ because of the reddish hue and regard it as a bad omen.

Of course the colour is caused by the sunlight being scattered through the earth’s thick atmosphere so the moon is never blacked out like the sun becomes briefly  in a solar eclipse at totality. The moon does not have an atmosphere anywhere as thick as the earths to scatter any light.

At sea level on Earth, we breathe in an atmosphere where each cubic centimetre contains 10,000,000,000,000,000,000 molecules; by comparison the lunar atmosphere has less than 1,000,000 molecules in the same volume.

It’s faint trace of atmosphere contains molecules including helium, argon, and possibly neon, ammonia, methane and carbon dioxide. There is no oxygen as abundant on earth.

I managed to get some reasonable photographs as  the eclipse was finishing  around 5am.

Lunar Eclipse ending - Photo by PH Morton

Lunar Eclipse ending – Photo by PH Morton

During my eclipse vigil in our back garden into the small wee hours as we say, a curious urban fox came close to me to see what I was up to then wandered off!

I could hear an owl hooting in the distance and field mice moving in our Blackberry bush/tree. The garden is indeed a fascinating place at night 🙂

Second Full Moon of the Month

Yesterday on Friday 31  July there was a rare astronomical event close to home that many might not have noticed, a second full moon of the month.

They sky over London last night was generally clear and where I live in NW London was exceptional with few clouds.

I gazed up and saw a full moon. what was unusual is that it was the second full moon in a calendar month.

 Second Full Moon of the Month

I took this photo of it at around 1 am (Saturday morning) from our back garden.

Second Full moon July AKA a 'blue moon'

Second Full moon July AKA a ‘blue moon’

 

Normally  there are 29.5 days between full moons and therefore a full moon once a month. Such moons are known as a ‘blue moon’

A blue moon is defined  as the second full moon in a calendar month.  We have a saying that a rare event or happening occurs ‘once in a blue moon.’

The next Blue Moon will be in May 2016.

Even rarer, are have two blue moons in a  calendar year this last  happened in 1999. There were two full moons in January and two full moons in March and no full moon in February. So both January and March had Blue Moons.

The  full moon is given a name for each month of the year it appears.

January: the Wolf Moon, February: the Snow Moon, March: the Worm Moon, April: the Pink Moon, May: the Flower Moon, June: the Strawberry Moon, July: the Buck Moon, August: the Sturgeon Moon, September: the Harvest Moon, October: the Hunter’s Moon, November: the Beaver Moon, December: the Cold Moon.

More well-known here are the Harvest Moon in September as centuries ago, this full moon helped farmers gather their harvest in at night. The Hunter’s Moon appears brighter and larger, which aided hunters at night in fields and forests.

Enjoy gazing at our constant,  closest, changeless, celestial neighbour 🙂

Brief Encounter With Pluto

Brief Encounter With Pluto

A brief encounter with Pluto.  On July 14 2015,  the New Horizons Spacecraft flew past our most distant planet, Pluto.  A truly historic moment in space travel.

Pluto is an a staggering 4.67 million miles (7.5 billion kilometres) from our home planet  earth.

Light & the signals from  New Horizons speeding to us  at  186,000(approx 3000 kms) per second  take over four hours to reach earth!

Here are some of the amazing photos…

pluto-charonPluto and it’s major moon Charon

pluto-mountain-range Close up of Pluto’s ice plain & mountainsPluto-REX-v3 near fly by of Pluto

 

Pluto was regarded as the most distant planet in our solar system after its discovery in 1930 at the Percival Lowell observatory. Urbain Le Verrier in the 1840s, using celestial  mechanics produced by Isaac Newton,   predicted the position of the then-undiscovered planet Neptune  after he had  analysed perturbations in the orbit of Uranus. Further observations of Neptune in the late 19th century made  astronomers speculate that Uranus’ orbit was being disturbed by another planet besides Neptune. In 1906,  a wealthy Bostonian Percival Lowell who had  founded the Lowell  Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona later becoming famous for early detailed observations of Mars. From the observatory  Lowell began an extensive project in search of what was causing the perturbation, a possible ninth planet, which he termed ” Planet X“.

A young astronomer/researcher at the observatory,  Clyde Tombaugh  had the task  to systematically image the night sky in pairs of photographs taken two weeks apart, then examine each pair and determine whether any objects had shifted position. He  used a blink comparator,  a viewing apparatus used by astronomers to find differences between two wide field  photographs  of the night sky taken through optical telescopes. The blink comparator permitted rapidly switching from viewing one photograph to viewing the other, “blinking” back and forth between the two taken of the same area of the sky at different times. This allowed the user to easily spot objects in the night sky that had changed position.  On 23 January 1930, using the comparator on two photo plates, Clyde discovered the illusive planet X. As discoverer  the Lowell observatory could name this new planet  but as the discovery was world-wide news , suggested names were submitted.

A 11 year old English schoolgirl Venetia Burney from Oxford proposed the  name Pluto. She  was interested in classical mythology as well as astronomy and thought that the god of the underworld was an appropriate name for such a remote, dark and cold world.  This name was submitted to  Lowell. The object was officially named on March 24, 1930 Each member of the Lowell Observatory was allowed to vote on a short-list of three: Minerva (which was already the name for an asteroid), Cronus  and Pluto. Pluto received every vote.  The name was announced on May 1, 1930.Upon the announcement, Venetia received  five pounds (£5) (£234 as of 2012), as a reward. The choice of name was partly inspired by the fact that the first two letters of Pluto are the initials of Percival Lowell, and Pluto’s astronomical symbol (♇) is a monogram constructed from the letters ‘PL’.

Science history books have been recently amended with Pluto being ( I think unfairly) downgraded  to a minor planet and  just one member of the Kuiper Belt objects, a  field containing  primordial  debris  that are remnants from the creation of the solar system. The Kuiper Belt circles the outer solar system. This debris varies in size and  as telescope power improved,  objects as large as Pluto have been discovered within the belt and the  question of Pluto being classed as proper planet has been raised by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) .  This meant instead of the 9 planets in our solar system, we have now only the 8 ones being Mercury, Venus Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Neptune, Uranus and Saturn.

In 2002, the KBO 5000 Quaor was discovered, with a diameter then thought to be roughly 1280 kilometres, about half that of Pluto. In 2004, the discoverers of 90377 Sedna placed an upper limit of 1800 km on its diameter, nearer to Pluto’s diameter of 2320 km,  although Sedna’s diameter was revised downward to less than 1600 km by 2007. , it was argued, Pluto should be reclassified as one of the Kuiper belt objects. On July 29, 2005, the discovery of a new trans-Neptunian object named Eris was found  be approximately the same size as Pluto. This was the largest object discovered in the Solar System since Neptune’s giant moon Triton in 1846. Its discoverers and the press initially called it the tenth planet , although there was no official consensus at the time on whether to call it a planet.  Others in the astronomical community considered the discovery the strongest argument for reclassifying Pluto as a minor planet. The debate on Pluto’s came to a head in 2006 with an IAU resolution that created an official definition for the term “planet”. According to this resolution, there are three main conditions for an object to be considered a ‘planet’:

  1. The object must be in orbit around the Sun.
  2. The object must be massive enough to be a sphere by its own gravitational force. More specifically, its own gravity should pull it into a shape of hydrostatic equilibrium (the condition in fluid mechanics where a volume of a fluid is at rest or at constant velocity. This occurs when compression due to gravity y is balanced by a pressure gradient force] e.g.  the pressure gradient force prevents gravity from collapsing the Earth;s atmosphere into a thin, dense shell, while gravity prevents the pressure gradient force from diffusing the atmosphere into space).
  3. It must have cleared the neighbourhood  around its orbit, that there are no comparable objects within the planet’s orbit.

Pluto fails to meet the third condition, since its mass is only 0.07 times that of the mass of the other objects in its orbit (Earth’s mass, by contrast, is 1.7 million times the remaining mass in its own orbit Controversy still rages at Pluto’s demotion to minor planet and reclassified in the new dwarf planet  Plutoid category of trans-Neptunian objects. In 2006, NASA launched the New Horizons spacecraft to visit Pluto, it is now past  halfway between Earth and Pluto, on approach for a dramatic flight past the icy planet and its moons in July 2015. Fittingly,  the spacecraft contains ashes from the cremated remains of Clyde Tombaugh who passed away in 1997.

Photo plates used in the blink comparator  showing an object  shown
with a pointer (Planet X) that moved over six nights against the  background of more fixed stars  and confirmed as a new planet later named Pluto.


Pluto and its moons: Hubble Space Telescope.

NewHorizonsspacecraftenroutetoPlutowithsevenonboardinstruments-

Ralph: Visible and infrared imager/spectrometer; provides color, composition and thermal maps.

 

Alice: Ultraviolet imaging spectrometer; analyzes composition and structure of Pluto’s atmosphere and looks for atmospheres around Charon and Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs).

 

REX: (Radio Science EXperiment) Measures atmospheric composition and temperature; passive radiometer.

 

LORRI: (Long Range Reconnaissance Imager) telescopic camera; obtains encounter data at long distances, maps Pluto’s far side and provides high resolution geologic data.

 

SWAP: (Solar Wind Around Pluto) Solar wind and plasma spectrometer; measures atmospheric “escape rate” and observes Pluto’s interaction with solar wind.

 

PEPSSI: (Pluto Energetic Particle Spectrometer Science Investigation) Energetic particle spectrometer; measures the composition and density of plasma (ions) escaping from Pluto’s atmosphere.

 

SDC: (Student Dust Counter) Built and operated by students; measures the space dust peppering New Horizons during its voyage across the solar system.

New Horizons is powered a single radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG), which transforms the heat from the natural radioactive decay of plutonium dioxide into electricity. The compact, rugged General Purpose Heat Source  developed and provided by the U.S. Department of Energy, carries approximately 11 kilograms (24 pounds) of plutonium dioxide fuel. It provides about 200 watts of power.

Assembly of New Horizons

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE 25 BIGGEST TURNING POINTS IN EARTH’S HISTORY

Hmmm ;)

Hmmm 😉

Yes they are big and fundamental in how we became and what were are today.

Below is a link to the 25 biggest turning points in earth’s history. Science is continually  shining an almost celestial light to illuminate the path out of  the darkness of our ignorance  in understanding our  existence. Exciting discoveries are being made. It is now thought that life on our planet  began in deep space.

The cloud of gas and dust that eventually formed our sun and solar system was created over 5 billion years ago  by the massive  death throes  and explosion of a massive star over 10-100 times the size of our sun in an event known as a supernova. This cloud  contained all the elements we know of today and make us up.

So we are literally  star born!

Chemical precursors  to life have been found in comets and asteroids that were and still are  around  from 5 billion years ago at the birth of our solar system, from this cloud.

Some of these objects  were very many at the beginning  and  their close orbits meant that they  regularly collided with the  forming earth.  Some of these comets and meteorites  seeded our planet  with chemicals and materials which over millions of years evolved into multi cellar life, primitive bacteria and thenceforth to us billions of years later.

Please click below to link to an interesting BBC science article graphically portraying those key points &  milestones in hour history

THE 25 BIGGEST TURNING POINTS IN EARTH’S HISTORY 

 

 

Waxing & Waning Gibbous Moon

Waxing Gibbous Moon 5 October 2014 - Photo by PH Morton

Waxing Gibbous Moon
5 October 2014 – Photo by PH Morton

The moon and the stars,
Dew and rain,
Hills and alleys,
Fields and meadows,
In serving fishes, fowls and beasts,
Serve all the sons of Men
A new deep and richer way.
And in serving them, bless,
enrich, serve me, thy
servant.

Except from The Thanksgivings by Thomas Traherne

 

Waning Gibbous Moon by PH Morton

Waning Gibbous Moon by PH Morton

Waxing & Waning Gibbous Moon

This photo for me best characterise a beautiful quote from the great Nathaniel Hawthorne who said:

“Moonlight is sculpture.”

I think that was an apt description, looking at the amazing photo of the moon above which was courtesy of  Peter.

I can see the craters of the moon.

By the way last night, the moon was also on its waxing gibbous phase over London/UK and the industrious Peter had taken another fantastic photo.  I’ll ask him if I could add it here as well. 😉

Watch this space.

 

Full Moon on 8 October 2014

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Love lights the sun: love through the dark
Lights the moon’s evanescent arc:
Same love lights up the glow/worm’s spark.
– Christina Rossetti

Last night’s moon was particularly beautiful as Peter and I took our dog, Ben Diesel for a walk. Peter and I just stood for a moment in our front garden admiring the bright moon which was beautifully framed by branches of one of the trees in the avenue of elm trees in our road.

As can be expected, Peter can’t help himself but try to record that sight through his faithful camera. His photos are beautiful; some are really clear which will make me remember that moment in time.

………………………………………………………………………………………………….
There was a Filipino legend why there were many craters on the moon. I found the written tale in Project Gutenberg.

The Sun and the Moon

Tinguian

Once the Sun and the Moon quarreled with each other, and the Sun said:

“You are only the Moon and are not much good. If I did not give you light, you would be no good at all.”

But the Moon answered:

“You are only the Sun, and you are very hot. The women like me better, for when I shine at night, they go out doors and spin.”

These words of the Moon made the Sun so angry that he threw sand in her face, and you can still see the dark spots on the face of the Moon.

From Philippine Folktales
compiled by Mabel Cook Cole

Mission to Mars

Mission to Mars

I am really chuffed about this.  Although it is only my name that is apparently bound for Mars, I find that deliriously exciting. LOL

I think they are actually putting up a mission, a one way ticket, sadly, to go up to Mars.  Some people have already shown interest.

I don’t think I would for so many reasons, which are (not in order) I have such a terrible travel sickness.  I don’t think I could make it in one piece, alive to Mars.  I would also miss my family and friends.  The thought of never seeing them again is just too much to bear.  Even the adventure of a lifetime is not enough incentive to leave the family.

 

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