The Moons of Lost Sleep


Waning Moon in the Morning Series (with Labels)

These are the Moons only insomniacs and night shift workers get to see. These are the waning Moons of morning.

For eight mornings I’ve been up at 4 a.m. each day to catch the early Moon and collect a series of images of its waning phases.

The result is above, a series that runs from right to left in time, from the 19-day-old waning gibbous Moon, to the 26-day-old thin crescent Moon.

I ordered them that way in the composite to reflect the direction the Moon moves across the sky. As it orbits Earth and wanes, the Moon moves from west to east, or right to left, in the sky from morning to morning, at least in the northern hemisphere.

A run of clear nights and mornings made the series possible. From Alberta, as dry as it is, too many cloudy nights make a consistent Moon phase series a challenge at best.

As it was I had to contend with smoke from forest fires in B.C. which reddened the Moon on the last few mornings, a tint I had to correct for the composite above. But here below, is what the Moon really looked like one morning.

Smoky Waning Crescent Moon
The smoky orange Moon of July 17.

The last two Moons, at 25 and 26 days old (i.e. the number of days since the previous New Moon phase) exhibited the phenomenon known as Earthshine. You can see the night side of the Moon glowing gently with sunlight reflected first off the Earth.

Waning Moon and Earthshine (July 20, 2017)
Earthshine on the 25-day old Moon on July 20 at dawn.

Below, this was the Moon this morning, July 21, with it very low in the east amid the twilight sky.

Waning 26-Day Moon with Earthshine
Earthshine on the thin 26-day old Moon on July 21 at dawn.

This final morning was exceptional. The smoke had cleared off, and when I got up at 4 a.m. (reluctantly!) for the last shoot I was greeted with the best display of noctilucent clouds I had seen in many years. They covered the northeast and eastern skies in a rare “grand display.”

Noctilucent Clouds at Dawn with the Moon and Venus
Noctilucent clouds with the Moon and Venus in the dawn sky, from southern Alberta, July 21, 2017.

The thin crescent Moon is just rising at right, with Venus bright as a “morning star” at far right. This was a sky certainly worth losing sleep over.

— Alan, July 21, 2017 / © 2017 Alan Dyer / amazingsky.com

 

The Moon in June


On one of the few clear nights of late I took the opportunity to shoot the Moon. It’s a familiar subject to be sure, but one I don’t shoot very often. Pity really, as it is rich in detail and makes for dramatic photos.

I took this shot June 12, about 4 days before the Full Moon of June, so this is a waxing gibbous Moon. Lots of terrain (lunain?) shows up at left along the terminator, including the wonderful semi-circular bay at about 10 o’clock called Sinus Iridum. At the bottom is the bright Tycho crater, with its distinctive splash of rays spreading out across most of globe. Imagine the devastating impact that caused that feature! It isn’t that old either — estimates suggest Tycho is just 100 million years old, putting its formation smack dab in the middle of the Cretaceous Period when dinosaurs ruled the Earth. They would have seen that impact, little knowing another similar-sized impact 35 million years hence, but aimed at Earth, would do them in.

For this shot I used the Astro-Physics 130mm apo refractor with a 2x Barlow lens to increase the effective focal length to 1600mm, a combo that exactly fills the frame of the Canon 7D with no room to spare. I processed this image for high contrast, to bring out the subtle tonal and colour variations in the dark lunar seas, an effect due to different mineral content of the lava that oozed out forming the lunar plains. Judicious use of Highlight Recovery (in Camera Raw) and Shadows and Highlights (in Photoshop) brings out the detail across a subject with a huge dynamic range in brightness. A liberal application of Smart Sharpening also helps snap up detail.

— Alan, June 18, 2011 / Image © Alan Dyer 2011