There are not only lunar phases and craters to capture our attention. For the past two months, a subtle, ethereal glow has appeared on the Moon, and this month is potentially our last chance to see it. If you find yourself marveling at how beautiful the Moon is, you’re not alone; this celestial phenomenon that has fascinated observers for centuries.
If you want to know more about when you can see this ghostly glow, why it happens, and what it has to do with Leonardo da Vinci, read on.
Why not escape the sweltering interior temperatures and make the most of clear nights this year with our UK full moon calendar and astronomy for beginners guide?
When can I see Earthshine?
If the clouds hold, you can see Earthshine in the morning, June 16, 2023before dawn at 4:42 am BST (5:24 am EDT, New York City).
Earthshine is visible in the early morning a few days before a new moon and in the evening a few days after a new moon. So whether you’re a lark or a night owl, don’t miss the ghostly glow of the Moon.
Here are the next opportunities to see Earthshine on both sides of the new Moon on June 18, 2023:
- June 16: Moon waxing waning at 3.2% (morning, before sunrise)
- June 20: Crescent moon at 5.7% (evening, after sunset)
- June 21st: Crescent moon at 11% (evening, after sunset)
- June 22: Crescent moon at 17.9% (evening, after sunset)
Earthshine is not visible year round; April and May are the best months. However, we may see a denouement this June, although it may not look as bright as last month.
What is Earthshine?
Earthshine is the faint illumination on the Moon, from Earth’s reflected sunlight.
Sunlight reflects off the Earth and reaches the surface of the Moon, illuminating the otherwise unilluminated part of the lunar disk (not to be confused with the “dark side” of the Moon, which is blocked away from us).
Earthshine is also referred to as the Da Vinci glow, and its intensity can vary based on factors such as atmospheric conditions, the earth’s albedo (reflectivity), and the position of the observer.
It’s a beautiful sight and definitely worth watching in these early summer months.
Why can you only see Earthshine during a crescent moon?
The reason Earthshine is so visible during a crescent moon is simply because the lighted part of the moon is thinner. This allows for a larger portion of the darkened Moon to be illuminated by Earthshine, and the contrast between the lighted and dark regions is more apparent.
June is perhaps the last good opportunity to see Earthshine this year, as during spring the Northern Hemisphere tilts towards the Sun before starting to tilt after the solstice. It’s also helped by the higher latitudes, where the last lingering winter snow and ice still provide some ground cover, reflecting more light than darker-colored vegetation and water, so we get a more noticeable earth flare.
While one might therefore expect that Earthshine would be brightest during the winter months when snow and ice cover is prolific, the amount of light reaching the Arctic is significantly less than the Sun does not rise even at very high latitudes, so Earthshine does not it is so busy during winter.
Why is it called Da Vinci Glow?
Earthshine has been documented for centuries. In Renaissance Italy, when Leonardo da Vinci observed the night sky in the 16th century, he made detailed drawings and sketches of celestial bodies, including the Moon.
Da Vinci meticulously documented his astronomical observations, noting the positions, phases and characteristics of these objects, including a sketch of Earthshine in the corner of one of his manuscripts. Through his detailed notes, many have adopted the term “Da Vinci Glow”, although he did not coin the term himself.
What affects Earthshine?
There is a combination of several factors that influence the appearance and intensity of Earthshine, including the Earth’s cloud cover, the composition of its atmosphere, and the angle of sunlight reflecting from our planet onto the Moon.
Changes in cloud cover are one of the major factors affecting the brightness of the Earth; the cloudier the Earth, the brighter the earth glow will appear. Of course, we still need to be able to do that See the Moon therefore is all about balance.
Earthshine will therefore vary in brightness and colour, so can be different from month to month.
Earth’s atmosphere also plays a crucial role in how Earthshine looks to us. As light from the Sun passes through our atmosphere, it is scattered and absorbed, with different wavelengths affected differently. The presence of particles or pollutants, for example, can influence the diffusion of light and alter its colour.
This atmospheric filtering affects the color and intensity of Earth’s glow, and it is this light that is ultimately reflected back to the Moon.
Different types of ground cover will reflect different amounts of light. The earth, for example, reflects about 10-25%, while the clouds reflect more; about 50% of the light.
What equipment do I need to see Earthshine?
Good news, you don’t need any special equipment to view Earthshine; only your eyes. If you want to spot some of the features you wouldn’t normally see, then binoculars or a telescope will come in handy and allow for a closer view of the lunar surface. Why not grab a pencil and notebook and recreate some of Da Vinci’s sketches yourself?
If you find yourself in a typical English home with no air conditioning, then you may want to escape the built-up heat for a while and make the most of the cooler night air. Set up a recliner, ottoman, or hammock outside and gaze up at our heavenly neighbor. You might even catch a glimpse of a sporadic meteor if you’re lucky.
Remember; if you fall asleep the sunrise is around 4.42am in the south of England so you will be woken early!
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