Monday, August 25, 2008
This August was eclipse season. The month's first New Moon and Full Moon were both seen in darkened skies during a solar and lunar eclipse. Blocking the Sun, the left panel's New Moon was captured during the total solar eclipse of August 1 from the path of totality overlooking Novosibirsk (Siberia) Reservoir, locally known as the Ob Sea. A lovely solar corona and bright inner planets Mercury and Venus emerged during the total eclipse phase, while the flickering view screens of eclipse watchers' digital cameras dotted the landscape. On the right, the Full Moon grazed Earth's shadow nearly 15 days later in a partial lunar eclipse. That serene view was recorded during an early evening stroll along the shores of the Odet River near the city of Quimper in western France. For planet Earth there are about two seasons each year during which the orientation of the Moon's orbit is favorable for solar and lunar eclipses. The next eclipse season begins in January 2009 with an annular solar eclipse.
The dark, inner shadow of planet Earth is called the umbra. Shaped like a cone extending into space, the umbra has a circular cross section that can be most easily seen during a lunar eclipse. For example, last Saturday the Full Moon slid across the northern edge of the umbra. Entertaining moon watchers throughout Earth's eastern hemisphere, the lunar passage created a deep but partial lunar eclipse. This composite image uses successive pictures recorded during the eclipse from Athens, Greece to trace out a large part of the umbra's curved edge. The result nicely illustrates the relative size of the umbra's cross section at the distance of the Moon, as well as the Moon's path through the Earth's shadow.