What a difference half a century makes! This week marks 50 years since the Soviet Luna 9 spacecraft made humanity’s first-ever soft landing on the surface of the Moon. Launched from Baikonur on Jan. 31, 1966, the Luna 9 lander touched down within Oceanus Procellarum at 18:44:52 UTC on Feb. 3. Over the following three days Luna 9 sent us our first views of the Moon’s surface from the surface and, perhaps even more importantly, confirmed to scientists that a landing by spacecraft was indeed possible (which, by the way, was achieved on this day in 1971 by Al Shepard and Ed Mitchell with Apollo 14.)
The midnight hour on December 11, 2011 brought a bright and vibrant halo around the Moon, not even 24 hours after its much-publicized total eclipse. It was all I could do to get my camera set up in time to snap a few photos; within the hour clouds rolled in and the effect was gone!
Caused by refraction of light in high-altitude ice particles, halos are most strongly observed (like this one) when the Moon is at zenith and are personally oriented for each particular observer, like rainbows. In other words, the halo you see around the Moon is literally for your eyes only!
A great reminder to always look up… you never know what you’ll see in the skies above.
This photo was taken from my front yard in Dallas, Texas at about 12:15 a.m. CST on December 11, 2011. (18mm Nikkor lens, 3s exposure, f/10, Nikon D7000. Edited in Aperture. © Jason Major.)
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This awesome animation by the visualization folks at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center shows the phases and position of the Moon throughout 2011 – a full year of the Moon compressed into 2.5 minutes!
What’s really interesting is how you can see the wobble of the Moon in its orbit. Even though it always faces the same side toward Earth, there is a bit of variation in how it is positioned, so a bit more or less of the regions along the limb angle into view over the course of a year.
And just in case you were wondering, yes, the Moon does rotate. It rotates at the same rate as it orbits Earth, so as to remain tidally locked with our planet. This is a common feature of many moons in our solar system.
Read more on Universe Today.
Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio
The Moon looked especially nice last night (April 5), crescent-lit at dusk and the rest illuminated by cool blue Earthshine! (That’s sunlight reflected off the Earth and onto the Moon…and then back to the Earth to our eyes!)
The image above was taken without a tripod, so it’s not super-crisp, but I tried to at least get a sense of the wonderful lighting at the time. 🙂
Click for a higher-resolution version on my Flickr stream.
Image © Jason Major