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SYFY WIRE Bad Astronomy

Goodnight, Moon

By Phil Plait

On Thanksgiving night (Nov. 27, 2014), I was getting ready to settle down and watch a movie with the family when I saw the waxing crescent Moon hanging outside a southwest window. The moonlight was reflecting off a still partially frozen lake, and it was so pretty I grabbed a few quick photos.

I was having some camera trouble (it sometimes freaks out in low light conditions) so I only got off one good shot—the wide picture above was a two-second exposure at f/5.6 and 400 ISO. I took another at 1/160th of a second as well, hoping to just see the phase, and while it’s not the best, I inset it here so you can see some surface features. Mind you, both of these were shot hand-held, with the camera resting on a railing. If I had had more time (and inclination), I would’ve set it up a little better. Even so, you can see Earthshine; the faint glow of reflected light from our own planet illuminating the otherwise dark part of the Moon.

It’s amazing what you can do with cameras these days. I would’ve killed for this ability back in high school, when I hand-rolled Tri-X film, then developed and printed it myself. What used to take hours now takes minutes, costs far less, and I can take 100 pictures if I need to and not worry about the cost or effort needed to examine them.

The beauty the pictures display was always worth it. It’s just a lot easier now. I love it. 

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