Many earthlings were treated to a rare sight last night, as a "supermoon" coincided with a lunar eclipse. It was a bad night to have clouds obscuring the view, as the last total eclipse that had these qualities occurred in 1982, and the next won't happen until 2033.

This lunar eclipse ticked many boxes for sky watchers: It was a supermoon, when the moon is both full and in perigee, or close to Earth, making it loom large in our sky. It was also a blood moon (the fourth and final lunar eclipse). And because it occurred days after the fall equinox, this was also the harvest moon.

Venus, Mars, and a thin crescent Moon will create a stunning sight in our early evening sky on February 20.  If skies are clear, find an open spot with an unobstructed horizon and look to the west between 6:15 and 7:00 p.m.   At first you may see brilliant Venus next to a thin, crescent Moon.  As twilight fades, fainter Mars will appear between Venus and the Moon.  Use binoculars for a truly amazing view!        

The Moon is very bright during the first week of January, and it’s tempting to go for a snow shoe trek or ski tour by moonlight.  But two weeks ago, the moon was hardly visible at all.  There is one main factor that determines the visibility and brightness of the moon:  lunar phase. But, varying Earth-Moon distance also plays a role.

The Tidal Dance of the Earth and the Moon

We learn in grade school that the Moon, our nearest neighbor in space, causes tides on the Earth’s oceans. It does so through its gravitational attraction to the Earth. But the gravitation interplay between Earth and Moon has other, subtler effects as well.

April’s Total Lunar Eclipse

Late on the evening of April 14th and into the early morning hours of April 15th, skygazers throughout the America’s and much of the Pacific region will be treated to a total lunar eclipse. This eclipse will be the first of two for the year. By the time the sun, earth and moon line up it will have been 857 days or 28 months since we last saw our moon completely in the shadow of our planet.

Just about any clear night provides an invitation to go outside and see what’s up. Some nights, however, might offer a special attraction: a meteor shower; a conjunction between the Moon and a bright star or planet; or even a lunar eclipse. If you are a beginner stargazer you can maximize your sky watching efforts by taking a few simple steps.

Start with a star chart, and/or a Planisphere or a star-charting app that runs on a smart phone, tablet, or PC.  These are valuable tools in learning the night sky, displaying any number of sky objects for any hour of the night.

Moon Illusion

Jan 14, 2013

On Saturday night, January 26th, a full moon will rise in the east just after sunset.  Look at the full moon when it’s still near the horizon.  Does it appear especially large to you?  Then, look at the moon later this same night, when it’s higher in the sky.  Does it appear smaller?  For most people, the moon looks much larger when on the horizon.  This is the "Moon Illusion."