Tag Archives: astronomy

Super Full Moon Eclipse

In the early hours of this morning we had a super full moon, which is when the moon is much closer to earth than usual, making it appear bigger. And, as most readers will know, we also had a full eclipse of the moon, the first of a super full moon since 1982 apparently. This is how it looked from Wicklow, in a series of photos I took over the few hours of the eclipse:

The super full moon before the eclipse.
The super full moon before the eclipse.

A shadow then began to cross the moon diagonally from upper left to lower right.

The moon slowly begins to dim as the Earth crosses between it and the sun, blocking out the light.
The moon slowly begins to dim as the Earth crosses between it and the sun, blocking out the light.

Soon the shadow almost crossed the entire moon surface.

Only a tiny sliver of the moon's face remains in the light.
Only a tiny sliver of the moon’s face remains in the light.
The Moon is entirely eclipsed and what little of it can be seen is tinged rusty red in colour.
The Moon is entirely eclipsed and what little of it can be seen is tinged rusty red in colour.

 

Now the top left corner slowly begins to brighten as the shadow of the Earth continues to move.
Now the top left corner slowly begins to brighten as the shadow of the Earth continues to move.
The bright white light bends across the moon's surface and appears to glow, as the red light of the shadowed moon begins to fade.
The bright white light bends across the moon’s surface and appears to glow, as the red light of the shadowed moon begins to fade.

Gradually the re-emerging of the moon  becomes more spectacular, but the eclipse is drawing quickly to and end and soon the moon will be as it was before the eclipse.

The white light made for a very bright contrast with the red of the 'blood moon'.
The white light made for a very bright contrast with the red of the ‘blood moon’.

In the summer of 2018 we are to have another lunar eclipse, but apparently it will be very early in the evening on one of our long July days so it might be some time before the right conditions occur again. Last night was a cool (3.5 degrees Celsius) and clear cloudless night so I was a very lucky eclipse photographer indeed.

Cold Wicklow Nights

Cold clear frosty nights are often the best times to look at the night sky, particularly in Wicklow. At the moment you can see the constellation of Orion in the southern sky.

The main part stars of Orion which makes for a beautiful night skyscape at the moment.
The main part stars of Orion which makes for a beautiful night skyscape at the moment. You’ll notice the tops of some bushes got into the photo.

Orion is a huge constellation but the most recognisable part of the constellation dominates the darkness right now. If you’re tired of Christmas-related TV you always have the option of wrapping up warm and stepping outside into the cool night air to take in the great spectacle. It doesn’t matter how often you see this light show, even if you live in the countryside, it’s breathtaking.

Winter Solstice – the end of the natural year

Today the precise time for the end of the natural year is 11.12 am Universal Time, formerly known as Greenwich Meantime (in about an hour’s time as I write this). It is our Winter Solstice and I marked it by visiting a local standing stone, which I have been studying with my brother for the past decade.

The Leabeg Stone, facing out to sea where the sun rose against a clear sky this morning at 8.37 am. UT/GMT/local time.

There does seem to be a strong alignment with the rising sun, as the flat face of the stone faces the sun, but its narrow edge points almost due south-south (it’s not perfectly flat being somewhat concave at the sea facing side). As many people will know, today has been hyped up as the end of the Mayan Calendar, and some unfortunate people have imagined this is the end of life as we know it. But it makes perfect sense that the Mayan Calendar ends today as it is the true end of the yearly solar cycle. In ancient times in Europe, and even much further afield, the sun was considered to be asleep for three days after the Solstice, with the actual rebirth, the birth of the new solar year, occuring on 25 December (most years), which you may choose to believe to be an incredible coincidence matching Christmas, if you so wish.

It has been long noted that the days immediately after do no grow noticeably longer than the day of the Solstice until a further three days have passed, so this could have something to do with it. Either way, it highlights just how important the sun is to our lives. But who were these ancients who erected these stone monuments on such a massive scale all across Ireland, and even in the difficult landscape of Wicklow? The monuments date to the Neolithic at least. The stone in the photo, which we refer to as the Leabeg Stone, is just to the north of Newcastle on the coastal plain and there are apparently references to this object in records going back to at least the 16th century. It can easily be seen from the road, especially by anybody seated on the top of the 84 double-deck bus as it makes its way either to or from Newcastle Village. Remarkably, it has an apparently related standing stone about 5 km to the west, on almost precisely the same latitudinal line. In a map you can draw and almost perfect east-west line from one stone to the other, with only five actual metres between them, which might actually be a discrepancy in the maps rather than any meaningful difference between them. Anyhow, out with the old and in with the new – happy new Solar Year to everyone!