Fly Me to the Moon

In last week’s blog post celebrating the winner of the Astronomy Photographer of the Year Mark Gee, I mentioned his stunning video of the moon rise. Here it is.

I’ve watched this video countless times and just can’t get over it. It’s  one of my all-time favourite astronomy-related videos.

“It’s fake, the moon doesn’t look that big” you’re probably thinking. Well, as a matter of fact, it is real. Mark shot this video from a distance of 2.1km from the hill top where people are standing, using a gigantic lens.

Of course, if you watched the moon rise from the same spot with your naked eye, the moon would just look like it usually does, because your eye has a much wider field of view (about 180° horizontally without even moving your eye), and you wouldn’t be able to discern the people standing there.

But with an instrument, you can “zoom” on a particular area of that field of view and see it in much more detail (in essence, this is what most telescopes do. Huge zoom compared to our eye, but extremely small field of view)

The result is this. On the science side, this video is great because it shows the natural speed at which the moon rises. Or rather, at which our Earth rotates. And boy does it spin fast: around 1,600km/h (!).

You can also see the wave patterns on the edges of the Moon caused by atmospheric turbulence, which is strongest near the horizon and distorts the shape of the Moon and Sun when they rise and set.

And of course you can clearly see the features of the Moon, its many craters and maria, the dark basaltic plains.

But what makes it so beautiful in my eyes is the people who are gathering to watch it. There are backpackers, families and couples. Notice them coming and going, hugging, looking. They’re all coming up there to look at the same thing you’re looking at. The moon. And it’s beautiful.

We often take our Moon for granted and forget it’s even there. This is a great reminder of how beautiful our only natural satellite is, and that you can enjoy it every night of the year with the simplest and yet most amazing instrument there is: your eye.


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