UVa Astronomy News Picture Archive

March 2008

Picture of the Month

Graduate student Alok Singhal captured this impressive sequence of images from the recent total lunar eclipse as seen from Charlottesville, VA on February 20, 2008. He used 18 1-second exposures each separated by 2 minutes at ISO 800 to obtain the final image. The Moon moves almost its own diameter on the sky in about 2 minutes, or an angle on the sky a bit smaller than the width of your thumb held out at arms length. This eclipse also had company - labeled above are the planet Saturn and the star Regulus in the constellation Leo, which were also captured in each frame of this composite image.

The orange and red appearance of the Moon during this eclipse is due to sunlight being reddened and refracted by the Earth's atmosphere into Earth's shadow. The next total eclipse of the Moon will not be visible again from North America until December 2010.

Lunar eclipses can only occur during Full Moon, so given that one can observe a Full Moon every 29.5 days (the lunar month) why doesn't one see a lunar eclipse every month? The answer lies in the orbit of the Moon: its orbit is actually inclined by about 5 degrees relative to Earth's orbit around the Sun, so the Moon does not always pass through Earth's shadow during every Full Moon.

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