They used to call me “Moonbeam”

May 19, 2007 | By | 14 Replies More

I’ve always been fascinated by the moon. Perhaps it was my father’s work with NASA from the 1960’s through the 1990’s, or maybe just a fascination with shiny things.

I was sitting in my back yard watching the fireflies and bats at dusk, when I was inspired to grab my camera and take a snapshot of the moon and Venus over the neighbor’s roof.

Moon and Venus

Okay, I used a tripod for the 2 second exposure, and my camera is a decent super-zoom digital (35-500mm equiv). I wanted to show the Earthlight, so the light side is seriously washed out. The detail would have been better had I used a telescope, but that wasn’t really my objective (so to speak). You can make out the major “seas” in the light reflected from the Earth to the moon and back, again.

As the bats flitted and feasted and dusk drew its curtain, I noticed that I’d watched long enough to see Venus gain on the moon! When I started watching, Venus was halfway down the moon (measured against the neighbor’s roof). By the time I thought to take this picture, Venus was half a moon’s breadth closer to the sun. In the time it takes to watch a prime-time show, I saw direct proof that the moon moves to the east relative to the sun. Well, at least relative to leisurely Venus.

I think that more people should take the time to observe simple things like this for themselves. If they did, my teenage peers might not have saddled me with the nickname “Moonbeam” when I was seen patiently watching the moon move across the sky one summer evening.


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Category: Entertainment, photography, Science, Whimsy

About the Author ()

A convoluted mind behind a curly face. A regular traveler, a science buff, and first generation American. Graying of hair, yet still verdant of mind. Lives in South St. Louis City. See his personal website for (too much) more.

Comments (14)

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  1. Ben says:

    More images to share here.

  2. That would make a nice wallpaper if you could post it with a bigger resolution. ๐Ÿ™‚ What camera did you use?

  3. Skblllzzzz says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with you that we should take our time to observe and enjoy these "slow" phenomena.

    When comet Hyakutake was in zenith I could see it move across the sky slowly hour by hour. Probably a once in a lifetime experience, a comet spanning 90º of the sky, but one can always maintain hope ;-).

  4. Dan Klarmann says:

    "Earthlight" illuminated: A photon is emitted from the sun, travels for almost 9 minutes to the hit frame of a pair of sunglasses worn by a little girl peering at the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles, bounces up, travels for a second and a half to the bottom step of the lunar lander ladder in the Sea of Tranquility, bounces again, and a second and a half later is absorbed by a crystal of silicon in my camera, to become a captured pixel.

    The exact reflecting objects for the photons that you absorb (observe) may differ.

  5. Dan Klarmann says:

    Camera: Panasonic Lumix FZ-30 (specs and review)

    The current model, FZ-50 (K or S) now sells for about $500. You'll want to spend another hundred on extras (spare battery, filters, SD card, etc).

    Here's a 1600×1200 version of the image. On this, you can see the various digital artifacts of the long, low-light exposure.

  6. Thank you, Dan! ๐Ÿ˜€ I'm using the picture as a wallpaper now and strangely – I'm starting to feel a bit sleepy. ๐Ÿ˜€

  7. Erich Vieth says:

    Dan, do you mean the ENTIRE moon is there all month?

    Just kidding . . . Great shot. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Tim Hogan says:

    Thanks! My kids and I watched the same show last night and wondered why the two objects seemed to move closer, I said because of the movement of the moon but, wasn't sure.

  9. grumpypilgrim says:

    What caused the excessively ragged edge separating the sun-lit and earthshine-lit regions on the Moon's face? There is topography on the Moon that will create some irregulatities along this edge, but I've never seen anything as severe as the jagged edge shown in the picture.

    Also, according to quantum theory, the photons that reflect from a surface are not the same photons as those that impinge. The impinging photons are absorbed by the surface, the energy they contain excites electrons to higher-energy orbitals, the excited electrons re-emit photons when they fall back down to lower-energy orbitals, and the re-emitted photons continue on their way. Not only are they not the same photons, but they usually don't even have the same wavelength: the energy spectrum gets smeared toward longer-wavelengths, because the electrons don't necessarily fall to the same level they started from.

    Um…also, earthshine occurs at night…hardly the hour when someone would likely be peering at a tar pit. But maybe that's just me.

  10. Dan Klarmann says:

    Grumpy, You had me considering that the excessive raggedness may be due to the thermals from the neighbor's roof. But, this is one of 3 shots taken a few seconds apart, and the edges are identically ragged, including that isolated bright spot at the edge of the dark.

    Compare it to this shot from

    According to QED, it isn't really important if the reflected energy packet (photon) is actually the identical incident packet, as long as the information it contains is the same. In this case, it doesn't even matter if the frequency, spin, or polarization shift. One-in to one-out is all that matters, poetically speaking.

    Just past sunset in St. Louis more than an hour before sunset in L.A. The sun is low, but still up.

  11. grumpypilgrim says:

    Fascinating pictures, Dan. I would expect some raggedness along that light/dark edge, as sunlight flooded across mountaions and into craters, but the amount of jaggedness seems startling. One of the benefits of a photograph versus the naked eye, I suppose.

    Good point about the time zones…I hadn't considered that.

    As regards the photons…I'm uncertain what "as long as the information it contains is the same" means in this context. Also, "one-in to one-out" is incorrect. When excited electrons drop back to lower-energy orbitals, they can do so in any number of discrete steps, emitting photons as they go; thus, one "in" photon can yield more than one "out" photon. In any case, I agree this is a case in which we should let the poetry trump the physics.

  12. grumpypilgrim says:

    I looked at the Moon last night and, for the first time, took a careful look at its light/dark boundary line. I was surprised to see much more jaggedness than I expected. In all the times I've looked at the Moon and seen pictures of it, I've never noticed this before. Thanks, Dan!

  13. Dan Klarmann says:

    Here are a few pictures I took during the lunar eclipse tonight. It was a clear, cold evening. As before, I only used my camera, without a telescope.

    <img src="; alt="Lunar Eclipse Begins">

    Eclipse begins. Actually, this is about 15 minutes into the umbra.

    <img src="; alt="Lunar Eclipse total">

    Eclipse totality. The blue is scraped off by our sky, and only the sunset and sunrise red get through to the moon, here. Given a wobbly tripod, a cold wind, and a 5 second exposure, I don't think this came out too badly.

    <img src="; alt="Lunar Eclipse Ends">

    Eclipse ends, seen over the fir tree in our backyard.

  14. Your pictures of the eclipse are beautiful, Dan! Even though it was not intended the wobbly tripod gave the second and third picture a slight blur that make them look like they were painted.

    I missed the eclipse, a) I forgot, b) would have been too tired anyway and c) the sky was overcast and you wouldn't have been able to see anything anyway.

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