Incredible lunar eclipse floats near the Lagoon

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July 1 2011 6:33 AM

Incredible lunar eclipse floats near the Lagoon

The total lunar eclipse two weeks ago spurred a lot of astrophotographers to capture the event, and I saw quite a few really pretty shots. But then I saw this one, which is so breath-taking I immediately emailed the photographer to get permission to share it with you:

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death from the Skies!  

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Wow. What you're seeing is the totally eclipsed Moon glowing a dull orange-red as it reflects sunlight filtered through Earth's atmosphere, sitting next to the Lagoon Nebula, itself pinkish-red due to the presence of octillions of tons of warm hydrogen. Just above the Lagoon and much farther away in space lies the blue-and-red Trifid Nebula, itself a star-forming region like the Lagoon. The Moon was in the constellation of Ophiuchus, near Sagittarius; from Earth this direction is looking straight into the galactic center. That's why you can also see thousands of densely-packed stars in the image.

The photographer, Emil Ivanov, combined five two-minute exposures during the deepest part of the eclipse to create this stunning picture. He took it in a small village (with dark skies!) about 40 km from Varna, Bulgaria. Funny-- this same image taken an hour or so later would look very different; the full Moon (outside of the Earth's shadow) would totally swamp the shot, and all you'd see was the moon itself! But this eclipse was so dark that even faint stars could be seen.

The Lagoon and Moon look to be about the same size in this shot, but in fact the Lagoon is about 100 light years across or a quadrillion kilometers. The Moon is a mere 3500 km across, but is a wee bit closer.

And while I'm at it, just so's you know, that tree looks to be about 10 meters away. That would make the Moon 40 million times farther away than the tree... but the Lagoon Nebula, at 4000 light years distant, is 100 billion times farther away than that.

I love astronomy for the incredible artistic appeal it provides, but man, sometimes just as important is the perspective it provides.

Image credit: Emil Ivanov; tip o' the lens cap to the Amateur Astronomy Picture of the Day



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