Monday, 7 May 2012

The Moon is fascinating, Super or not

I was treated to a celestial wonder this evening and this time, I was ready. The much-fabled Supermoon appeared out of the kitchen window glowing like a lantern, and I took to the streets with camera, zoom lens and tripod at the ready. The photo below was taken using a fairly standard digital SLR with a 55-250 mm lens at full zoom.

The Supermoon, which has attracted much attention in the online science world this week, is unusually large and bright and is caused by the conjunction of a full moon with the rocky satellite's closest approach to planet Earth for several years (although if you ask Wikipedia there are 5 Supermoons a year and there are plenty of pictures of one in 2011, so I may have missed a trick somewhere). The moon's elliptical orbit brings it periodically to this close approach or perigee.

Statistics vary but to pluck some from the air the Supermoon is claimed to be 14 per cent larger and 30 per cent brighter than at other times. I'm not usually cynical, but to the uninitiated however, I doubt somehow that the Supermoon would have illicited much of a reaction (unless seen in some dazzling context like rising above the minarets of Mecca or silhouetted by the Eiffel tower). The fact is, the Moon is pretty fascinating the whole time (less so when it's invisible of course) and I'm glad that the media attention from the Supermoon spurred me to point my camera skywards.

The next photo would probably draw peals of laughter from even the least experienced astronomer (or photographer for that matter). I decided to point the lens at a different part of the sky and give my Northern Hemisphere friends something a little special from Down Under, a little known constellation called Crux which I understand has some significance with the locals. OK, the photo is awful (there was a large street lamp metres away) but I was very pleased with the results considering the ease of taking the shot.

(For something a little more accomplished in this vein, have a look at these fantastic star trail pictures, thanks to Ben Kent for the link).

I am much indebted to the Supermoon for raising its 14-per-cent-larger head and inspiring me to peer up into the night sky. Having learnt this week that the Andromeda galaxy is 6 times wider than the full moon on the sky (provided you have the gear to see it), I am very excited about doing some stargazing in the very near future.

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