Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Sept 26: The Inconstant Moon

This week Columbia Astronomy's own outreach director, Summer Ash, discussed the many ways in which the Moon, frequently taken for granted in our night sky, can exhibit surprising and complex dynamics due to its complicated relationship with the Earth. After reminding us of the most well-known variation, lunar phase, she described the months - all six types!

Moving on from illumination effects, Summer described the many ways the orbit of the Moon around the Earth affects how we see it. Since its distance varies, sometimes it seems larger and brighter in the sky that others; this is the origin of the "Super Moon." Additionally, its orbit makes a small angle with the plane of the Earth-Sun orbit, which is why we don't experience eclipses at every new moon. Speaking of eclipses, she reminded us that total eclipses, where the moon completely enters the shadow of the Earth, are the ones you really want to get out of bed and check out. The Moon's red color during such an eclipse is due to the Sun's light being scattered by the Earth's atmosphere, the same reason the Sun looks red-orange at sunset: only red light can make it straight through!

If you were unable to attend the talk, or would like to read more, Summer wrote a blog piece on this same topic which you can read on Starts With a Bang.

After the lecture, graduate student Yong Zheng lead a lively discussion of the Milky Way's gas dynamics while Pratishta Yerakala demonstrated a variety of astronomical phenomena at the 3D wall and Adrian Price-Whelan, Jose Zorrilla, Emily Sandford, Maria Charisi, and Aleksey Generozov ran stargazing from Rutherfurd Observatory atop Pupin Hall. Objects targeted included the Ring Nebula, the Andromeda Galaxy, the Double Cluster and the beautiful visual binary star Albiero

-- David Hendel (graduate student)

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