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Archive for the ‘Moon’s orbit’ Category

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Lately the media have been heralding the occurrence of “Supermoons,” that is, times when the Full Moon coincides with perigee, the place in the Moon’s orbit when it’s closest to Earth. I’m happy to break over two months of non-blogging with the photo above, from this morning at 3:46 AM CDT (8:46 UT June 24, 2013). Compare with the earlier photos below, one taken at apogee (furthest from Earth) and the other at perigee, the especially “super” Supermoon of March 2011:


Above: 11:46 PM CDT October 11, 2011 (4:46 UTC), just 2 hours and 40 minutes after the time of greatest full phase. The Moon was 252,500 miles from Earth.

Below: March 2011’s “Supermoon,” 3:34 AM CDT March 19, 2011 (8:34 UTC). The Moon was 221,700 miles from Earth.

Both with LG VX8360 cell phone camera. Click to enlarge.

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The Sun at 9:18 AM CDT June 27, 2012 (14:18 UT), projected onto white paperboard via my 60mm refractor telescope with 17mm eyepiece. The innocent-looking sunspot group just to the lower right of center is Sunspot 1512, which according to Spaceweather.com “poses a growing threat for M-class solar flares.” They also report a coronal hole still on the Sun’s far side, but soon to rotate within sight of Earth, which will likely send a stream of solar wind which will reach Earth on July 1-2, causing aurorae (Northern/Southern Lights), etc. Don’t worry, we’ve been through it all many times before, but I’ll keep you posted.

WordPress.com gives me a report on what kinds of search engine searches brought people to my site, and somebody today searched for “what did the Moon look like on June 19, 2012?” Well, since that was the New Moon phase, it couldn’t be seen from Earth at all that day, but someone viewing the Earth-Moon system from the Sun’s direction would have seen the far side of the Moon fully illuminated. Here’s a simulated view via NASA/JPL’s delightful Solar System Simulator:

Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech

Venus, now a “morning star,” is well-situated in my sky for updates on its changing phases, as it continues to recede from Earth after the glorious Transit of June 5/6, 2012, so I’ll keep on updating this photo series every few days or so:

11:21 AM CDT June 27, 2012 (16:21 UT)
Angular diameter 47.07 arc seconds
13.4% illumination
Distance from Earth 32,940,927 miles (53,013,283 km)
25mm eyepiece with 2x Barlow
8:38 AM CDT June 21, 2012 (13:38 UT)
Angular diameter 51.42 arc seconds
7.8% illumination
Distance from Earth 30,154,150 miles (48,528,401 km)
25mm eyepiece with 2x Barlow
8:57 AM CDT June 12, 2012 (13:57 UT)
Angular diameter 56.46 arc seconds
1.6% illumination
Distance from Earth 27,463,558 miles (44,198,313 km)
25mm eyepiece with 2x Barlow
7:33 PM CDT June 5, 2012 (00:33 UT June 6, 2012)
Angular diameter 57.78 arc seconds
0.0% illumination, transiting the Sun
Distance from Earth 26,836,379 miles (43,188,966 km)
Projection method with 60mm refractor telescope and 17mm eyepiece
10:50 AM CDT May 16, 2012 (15:50 UT)
Angular diameter 48.03 arc seconds
12.3% illumination
Distance from Earth 32,284,073 miles (51,956,179 km)
10:26 AM CDT May 10, 2012 (15:26 UT)
Angular diameter 43.71 arc seconds
18.1% illumination
Distance from Earth 35,473,212 miles (57,088,600 km)
25mm eyepiece with 2x Barlow
12:41 PM CDT May 3, 2012 (17:41 UT)
Angular diameter 39.11 arc seconds
24.5% illumination
Distance from Earth 39,649,337 miles (63,809,423 km)
18mm eyepiece

7:14 PM CDT April 22, 2012 (00:14 UT 4-23-12)
Angular diameter 33.12 arc seconds
33.6% illumination
Distance from Earth 46,812,338 miles (75,337,236 km)
25mm eyepiece with 2x Barlow

6:28 PM CDT March 24, 2012 (23:28 UT)
Angular diameter 22.95 arc seconds
52.4% illumination
Distance from Earth 67,571,683 miles (108,746,083 km)

4:10 PM CST February 12, 2012 (22:10 UT)
Angular diameter 16.24 arc seconds
70.2% illumination
Distance from Earth 95,450,953 miles (153,613,419 km)
18mm eyepiece

1:48 PM CST February 8, 2012 (19:48 UT)
Angular diameter 15.82 arc seconds
71.7% illumination
Distance from Earth 98,020,580 miles (157,748,833 km)
18mm eyepiece

2:37 PM CST January 5, 2012 (20:37 UT)
Angular diameter 13.19 arc seconds
81.6% illumination
Distance from Earth 117,572,894 miles (189,215,232 km)
2:21 PM CST November 29, 2011 (20:21 UT)
Angular diameter 11.46 arc seconds
89.5% illumination
Distance from Earth 135,265,885 miles (217,689,541 km)
4:18 PM CST November 20, 2011 (22:18 UT)
Angular diameter 11.13 arc seconds
91.2% illumination
Distance from Earth 139,346,992 miles (227,254,246 km)
12:03 PM CST January 5, 2011 (18:03 UTC)
Angular diameter 25.58 arc seconds
48.6% illumination
Distance from Earth 60,611,164 miles (97,544,214 km)
10:02 AM CST November 27, 2010 (16:02 UTC)
Angular diameter 44.72 arc seconds
20.6% illumination
Distance from Earth 34,669,885 miles (55,795,771 km)
12:40 PM CDT (17:40 UTC), November 5, 2010
Angular diameter 59.94 arc seconds
2.4% illumination
Distance from Earth 25,866,740 miles (41,628,483 km)

Unless otherwise noted, 8″ reflector telescope, 25mm eyepiece. LG VX8360 cell phone camera.

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Many amazing things happening in the skies these days. Besides the Transit of Venus, now only two days away, there’s a partial lunar eclipse tomorrow on June 4, 2012, which for us in the USA’s Central Time Zone occurs just about at sunrise, but we hope to observe part of it before the Moon sets, and if you’re west of us (for example, in a Pacific state such as Oregon), you will have an even better view of it than we will.

Here is the Moon this past week on May 28/29, only a few hours after the First Quarter Phase:


7:27 PM CDT 5-28-12 (00:27 UT 5-29-12), 25mm eyepiece (magnification 65x)


11:26 PM CDT 5-28-12 (4:26 UT 5-29-12), 25mm eyepiece with 2x Barlow (magnification 130x)
The northern end of the Moon, with sunrise just reaching the west rim of Plato, and the lunar Alpine Valley showing up quite well.


11:31 PM CDT 5-28-12 (4:31 UT 5-29-12), 17mm eyepiece with 2x Barlow (magnification 191x)
An interesting feature called the Straight Wall shows up well in the left center of this photo, which is centered in the south central portion of the Moon’s disk. The Straight Wall is about 80 miles or 130 kilometers long.

8″ f8 homebuilt reflector telescope with LG VX8360 cell phone camera. Click to enlarge.

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Above: the thin, lovely waning crescent Moon in the predawn sky, 6:56 AM CDT October 24, 2011. Unfortunately clouds soon moved in and thwarted a closer look.
Below: 7:45 AM CDT October 22, 2011 (12:45 UTC), 8″ reflector telescope, 25mm eyepiece, LG VX8360 cell phone camera. Click for larger view.

As promised, I shall offer a few notes in hopes of clarifying for the layperson what is said, and what is not said, in this paper by professional astronomer Dr. Lorenzo Iorio:

On the anomalous secular increase of the eccentricity of the orbit
of the Moon

An earlier edition of the same paper may be found here.

For over a year I’ve been aware that many people visiting my site have been seeking answers regarding an alleged shift in the Moon’s orbit, as well as alleged changes or shifts in the orientation of the Moon’s surface. Often this is connected with concerns and fears about catastrophic events coming up in the year 2012.

See these previous posts for background:
The Moon’s Eccentric Orbit and Changing Apparent Size

Reports of the Moon’s orbit changing are somewhat exaggerated – 11-3-10

The Moon on 3-13-11; “Proof of Moon Shift” indeed!

Waxing gibbous Moon October 9/10, 2011; lunar field rotation; post announcement re: Dr. Iorio and the Moon’s orbit

Nearly Full Moon October 11, 2011; J.M. Talbot’s “Pleiades and Orion”

There are also those who believe that the alleged shifts in the Moon’s orbit and orientation represent “signs” in the Moon, which fulfill in part the prophecy in Luke 21:25:

There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. (NIV)

For example, between about 8:50 and 12:00 in this half-hour video, author and speaker L.A. Marzulli and the program host make the following assertions:

– People are seeing signs in the Sun and Moon, and saying that “this doesn’t look right.”
– Marzulli and others sought answers about the Moon’s orientation in the sky from several prominent astronomical institutions, and basically had the door “slammed” in their face.
– Dr. Iorio’s paper says that the lunar surface is doing “things we normally we do not see,” and says that foreign objects are coming into our solar system.

At the end of this post I will explain more of my own motivation as a Christian for responding to these allegations. Meanwhile, I think we ought to do Dr. Iorio the courtesy of looking carefully at what he does say, and what he does not say.

First, from the Introduction, Page 2:

Anderson & Nieto (2010), in a review of some astrometric
anomalies recently detected in the solar system by several
independent groups, mentioned also an anomalous secular
increase of the eccentricity1 e of the orbit of the Moon
e˙meas = (9 ± 3) × 10−12 yr−1 (1)
based on an analysis of a long LLR data record spanning
38.7 yr (16 March 1970-22 November 2008) performed by
Williams & Boggs (2009)

Translation: Ever since the Apollo astronauts placed laser reflectors on the Moon, ultra-precise measurements have been made of the Moon’s distance from the Earth. Gradually over long periods of time, the Moon’s orbit, already elliptical, is becoming more elliptical and comet-like, at a greater rate than previously known or predicted. This amounts to a gradually, steady variation in the Moon’s orbit of about nine parts per trillion per year. To help you visualize better just how small and slow this variation is, someone called CLPrime mentions in this online discussion:

In fact, I just did the math, and that works out to 8.4 millimetres per year.
In the 38.7 years they’ve been observing this, the moon’s apogee has gained a sixth of a metre while the perigee has lost as much …

… Over time, this could become a much more significant effect… especially in 89 billion years, when it causes the moon to come crashing down on the earth.

Since astronomers predict other catastrophic events such as the Sun’s Red Giant stage in “only” five billion years, I’m not alarmed about what might happen in 89 billion years!

What Dr. Iorio does not say:
Yes, this paper does describe a “change” or “shift” in the Moon’s orbit, but it is not a sudden change, and nothing in this paper suggests that it is an accelerating change. It is a change in our knowledge of the Moon’s orbit, not a sudden shift in the Moon’s orbit itself. Dr. Iorio is not saying that the Moon’s orbit shifted suddenly in 1970, or 2008, or 2011. He’s saying that the Moon’s orbit has been gradually changing all along at the rate described, and that it was happening even before we had the ability to make these precise measurements.

Next, from Page 5 of Dr. Iorio’s paper:

A promising candidate for explaining the anomalous increase of the lunar eccentricity may be, at least in principle, a trans-Plutonian massive body of planetary size located in the remote peripheries of the solar system: Planet X/Nemesis/Tyche (Lykawka & Mukai
2008; Melott & Bambach 2010; Fern´andez 2011; Matese & Whitmire 2011).

Translation: One explanation for unexpected perturbations in the Moon’s orbit would be a not-yet-discovered massive object. Perhaps Dr. Iorio’s paper would have drawn less reaction if he had not mentioned the word “Nibiru,” which today is pregnant with 2012-related connotations. Yet in itself this proposal is simply calm science at work; it was through analysis of perturbations of the orbit of Uranus that Neptune was discovered in 1846, so it makes sense for Dr. Iorio to consider this possibility as he goes through the checklist of possible explanations. And please note Dr. Iorio’s conclusion on this topic, from Page 5:

Actually, eq. (40) is totally unacceptable since it corresponds to distances of X as absurdly small as dX = 30 au for a terrestrial body, and dX = 200 au for a Jovian mass (Iorio 2011).
We must conclude that not even the hypothesis of Planet X is a viable one to explain the anomalous increase of the lunar eccentricity of eq. (1).

Translation: A body with enough gravity to perturb the Moon in this way would have to be an Earth-sized object in the vicinity of Neptune and Pluto, or possibly a Jupiter-sized object 6-7 times that far away. Either way, this proposal would be “absurd” because such an object would already have been easily detected, optically as well as by its massive perturbations of other objects in the solar system. Thus it is clear from this statement that Dr. Iorio rejects the “Nibiru” explanation rather than supporting it, as some seem to think.

Note Dr. Iorio’s concluding paragraph:

Thus, in conclusion, the issue of finding a satisfactorily
explanation of the observed orbital anomaly of the Moon
still remains open. Our analysis should have effectively restricted
the field of possible explanations, indirectly pointing
towards either non-gravitational, mundane effects or some
artifacts in the data processing. Further data analyses, hopefully
performed by independent teams, should help in shedding
further light on such an astrometric anomaly.

Again, this is sober science at work. New data comes to light that challenges us because it isn’t completely explained by current theory. So we search for the explanation. Sometimes it results in small adjustments to our theories, and sometimes it results ultimately in revolutions in scientific thought. I recommend an excellent book that describes this process, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas S. Kuhn.

As a Christian, I believe that we have a special responsibility to listen carefully to what people like Dr. Iorio say, and not misrepresent their words. In John 21:20-23, the author of John describes a case in which people read something into Jesus’ words that wasn’t really there:

20 Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?”) 21 When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?”

22 Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” 23 Because of this, the rumor spread among the believers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?” (NIV)

Since Jesus also says in Matthew 25:40, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me,” I think we ought to “do for” Dr. Iorio by reading and listening carefully to what he really says and be careful not to read into his words things that he did not really say.

This is a special responsibility for Christians who influence many others, such as L.A. Marzulli. James 3:1 says, “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” Judged more strictly not only by God, but by others. I solemnly, earnestly urge L.A. Marzulli to stop citing alleged “Moon shifts” and Dr. Iorio’s paper as evidence that “signs” are happening in the Moon. It only gives non-Christians reason to scoff and ridicule when Christians in influential positions make unfounded and untrue statements.

As a Christian I believe that the words of Jesus in Luke 21:25 are true, and in time it will become abundantly clear how they are fulfilled. But as a careful, long-time observer of the Moon, my testimony is that nothing unusual is happening to the Moon. I’ve been observing the Moon closely since I was a kid in the 1970s, and since mid-2010 I’ve been building a library of simple but authentic images of the Moon and other solar system objects, which may be viewed on this site. I cite this as evidence that I’m indeed a careful, persistent, consistent observer of the Moon, and that if anything unusual happened it would not escape my notice.

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Yesterday evening’s nearly-full Moon photographed at intervals 3 hours and 57 minutes apart:


Above, at 7:34 PM CDT 10-9-11 (00:34 UTC 10-10-11).
Below, at 11:31 PM CDT 10-9-11 (4:31 UTC 10-10-11).

As usual, 8″ reflector telescope, 25mm eyepiece, LG VX8360 cell phone camera. Click for larger view. Considering that I use the inexact method of aiming my cell phone camera by hand into the telescope eyepiece, I tried my best to approximate the actual orientation of the Moon with respect to my local horizon. I didn’t use to try so hard, but I’ve become aware that with the concern many have these days about alleged changes in the Moon’s orbit, the Moon’s orientation in the sky has become an issue, so I’m now trying my best to document what’s actually observed. What you’re seeing in these pictures is nothing more than field rotation. Since I’m at roughly 46 degrees North latitude, the Moon and other celestial objects rise upwards and to the right at a slope of roughly 44 degrees (44+46=90), which means that when it’s in the east it looks rotated counterclockwise, as in the first photo, when the Moon was in the East-Southeastern sky. In the second picture the Moon was almost directly South, so field rotation evened out. The Moon looks at that point like it’s rotated slightly clockwise, because it was “climbing” toward the northernmost part of its monthly path through the sky, which it will reach on 10-16-11. That’s all that’s happening.

Lots of people continue to stop by my site looking for information about the Moon’s orbit and the following recent paper by professional astronomer Dr. Lorenzo Iorio:

On the anomalous secular increase of the eccentricity of the orbit of the Moon

Since I’ve even recently been cited as a source for a lay-level explanation of Dr. Iorio’s paper (and I’m honored to have been cited), I feel an obligation to write with greater detail and clarity on the subject. I have nothing to offer but careful observations, careful reading, careful listening, and careful thought, but if that interests you, watch my site within the next two weeks for a detailed post on Dr. Iorio’s paper.

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International Observe the Moon Night hasn’t turned out the way I hoped – it’s overcast and drippy here. Oh, well. Here’s my most recent good Moon photo, from 11:52 PM 10-6-11 (4:52 UTC 10-7-11):


As usual, 8″ reflector telescope, 25mm eyepiece, LG VX8360 cell phone camera. Click for larger view. It was a bit windy, so I’m happy it was possible to capture this photo at all.

Purported changes in the Moon’s orbit and orientation continue to be a hot topic, and lots of people are finding their way to my site while researching the issue. I’ll try to post more on the issue soon, but here’s a good video from the Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio which illustrates the normal changes in the Moon’s appearance during the course of the year 2011, as viewed from Earth:

The video appeared in this good explanatory article:
One Year of the Moon in 2.5 Minutes
Thanks to Mr. AV North Media, who inquired about the subject and shared the above link with me here.

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