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Archive for the ‘Moon’s orientation’ Category


5:49 AM CDT July 8, 2012 (10:49 UT), 8″ homebuilt reflector telescope with 25mm eyepiece.

Libration of Latitude is currently tipping the south end of the Moon decidedly in our direction, which makes it a great time to photograph the Tycho region. Tycho figures prominently just to the right of center in this photo, its ray system still evident in the afternoon Sun. South of it is the giant crater Clavius, one of my perennial favorites. I’m always pleased when I manage to capture the arc of smaller craters within Clavius. 5:53 AM CDT 7-8-12 (10:53 UT), 25mm eyepiece with 2x Barlow:

Venus and Jupiter climb a bit higher in the east each morning. Here they are this morning at 4:46 AM CDT, Jupiter above Venus:

I’ve added a new telescope to my collection – an old one, that is, but new to me. At a Salvation Army Thrift Store I found a Bushnell Model 18-1560 refractor, probably from the 1960s or 1970s, with a 50mm objective lens of 600mm focal length, for less than ten dollars. The bracket was broken which attached it to the rickety tripod, so I figured out a way to attach it to a camera tripod instead, and shazam, I’ve got a very compact, light “grab and go” scope good for star parties and the like. here it is next to the Meade 60mm refractor for comparison:

I doubt that I’ll use it much for photography, but here’s an uncropped photo of the Moon from 4:45 AM this morning, just to show you how it does. 50mm refractor, 12mm eyepiece:

All with LG VX8630 cell phone camera. Click to enlarge.

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6:09 AM CST 11-11-11 (12:09 UT). When the Moon is full or close to it, it’s always very striking and majestic as it hangs in the western sky before dawn. The lunar disk is rotated sharply clockwise, partly because it is still “ascending” to the northernmost part of the ecliptic, and partly because it is approaching moonset, and at my latitude sets at a “slope” of 44.1 degrees to the lower right.
8″ f8 reflector telescope, 25mm eyepiece, LG VX8360 cell phone camera. Click for larger view.

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I accomplished two observation sessions about six hours apart, and saw some fascinating lunar and jovian sights.

In their constant orbital dance, it’s not often that Jupiter’s four Galilean Moons appear to us in order of their actual distance from Jupiter, but yesterday evening they did, and moved from there to the most beautiful configuration I’ve seen yet:


Above: 7:25 PM CST 11-6-11 (1:25 UT 11-7-11). Left to Right: Callisto, Ganymede, Europa, Io, Jupiter.
Below: Six hours and two minutes later at 1:27 AM CST 11-7-11 (7:27 UT). The upper moon is Europa. The three moons in a near-straight line are (L-R) Callisto, Ganymede, Io. And of course, the “big one” is Jupiter.

Now to Earth’s Moon:

Above: 7:37 PM CST 11-6-11 (1:37 UT 11-7-11). The Moon was high in the southeastern sky.
Below: 1:23 AM CST 11-7-11 (7:23 UT). The Moon was still somewhat high in the southwestern sky. In the upper (northern) part of the terminator the crater Aristarchus has just peeked into the morning sunlight.


Above: 7:44 PM CST 11-6-11 (1:44 UT 11-7-11). I’ve become quite fascinated with the crater Gassendi, prominent in the left center of this picture, on the northern end of Mare Humorum, the “Sea of Moisture.”
Below: The same region at 1:20 AM CST 11-7-11 (7:20 UT). The advancing morning sunlight has visibly cleared the mountains at the western edge of Mare Humorum.

Below: 1:21 AM CST 11-7-11 (7:21 UT). The region of Mare Imbrium, the “Sea of Showers.” Five major features appearing here include, clockwise starting at the far left: Kepler, Aristarchus, Sinus Iridum, Plato, Copernicus.

8″ reflector telescope, 25mm eyepiece, LG VX8360 cell phone camera. Closeups with 2x Barlow. Click for larger view.

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7:01 AM CDT September 13, 2011 (12:01 UT), 8″ reflector telescope, 25mm eyepiece, LG VX8360 cell phone camera. Click for larger view.

A day after Full Moon the Moon still appears basically full to the unaided eye, but the telescope reveals the terrain of craters on the Moon’s eastern limb, as the Moon begins to wane.

The orientation of the Moon’s is rotated sharply to the right because of two combined factors: one is that the Moon was in the western sky approaching moonset, and at my latitude of approximately 45.9 degrees north, celestial objects set in the west with an apparent tilt of 44.1 degrees clockwise. Added to that, the Moon was in the constellation Aries, a part of the Zodiac in which solar system objects are “ascending” (from a Northern Hemisphere point of view) towards the northernmost part of the Zodiac. This adds another 23.5 degrees of clockwise tilt, resulting in the nearly 70-degree clockwise tilt observed in this photo. I’m citing all this for the benefit of anyone concerned by rumors of an unusual or abnormal “shift” in the Moon’s surface. My testimony as a careful Moon observer for nearly 40 years is that the Moon is behaving normally.

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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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The Pleiades and Orion are a glorious part of the predawn sky in October. Here’s some beautiful music to go with them:

The nearly full Moon shone dramatically and majestically in the western sky this morning:


5:45 AM CDT October 11, 2011 (10:45 UTC). 8″ reflector telescope, 25mm eyepiece, LG VX8360 cell phone camera. Click for larger view.

Since I live at roughly 46 degrees north latitude, the Moon sets downward and to the right at an angle of roughly 44 degrees. Also, the Moon is climbing towards the northernmost part of the ecliptic, and the ecliptic crosses the celestial equator at an angle of 23.5 degrees. 44 + 23.5 is 67.5, which explains why the Moon’s disk is rotated close to 70 degrees clockwise in this photo. This is a completely normal, regular, and predictable occurrence, regardless of what some people say.

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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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