Monday, September 29, 2008

The Almost New Moon In Black And White

Today is the new Moon.

Last week I got to watch the Moon edge closer to the Sun every morning. Friday was the last day I was able to check it out. I’d hoped to try to see it Saturday, too, but the sky got cloudy.

Now the Moon will be hidden in the Sun’s glare for a few days, and then emerge as an evening object, a thin crescent getting larger.


Friday I had a great view of the very late Moon—just three days away from new. Following the late Moon is a pretty fun thing to do. Sometimes you get to see a wildly beautiful sight.

I’m posting a tiny black and white ink sketch I made of what I saw Friday, the late Moon above the trees across the alley.

I’m kind of sighing as I post this because this image is two things I’ve been trying hard to get away from: I’m trying to get away from working so small; and I’m trying to get away from working in black and white. This was done with Pigma markers on a 3" by 5" index card. But I have trouble thinking in color. And I have trouble thinking with a brush in my hand. So I have to force myself to get away from pencils and pens and tiny pieces of paper. Sometimes I struggle with myself and lose. Like I did last Friday.

But because I’m still formulating my thoughts on the way astrophotography has taken over astronomy, I want to put up all the hand-created astronomy images I can so that I’ll have stuff to talk about when I figure out more about what I want to say.

And someday, too, I will return to the sight of the new Moon in color.

When you observe a very late new Moon, sometimes you see something almost magical.

Physically, what’s happening is this: The thin crescent of the Moon is illuminated by sunlight. So the crescent of the Moon is a warm, orange kind of color. But because the crescent is so thin, the illumination isn’t strong enough to physically activate very many of the color receptors in our eyes. At the same time, the dark disk of the Moon isn’t completely dark at all. The dark disk of the Moon is being illuminated by Earth-shine. Earth-shine is sunlight that reflects off the Earth’s oceans and clouds and shines back at the Moon. So, the disk of the Moon sometimes gets this shimmering, ethereal glow of cool, blue-white light. But, again, the overall illumination levels are so low that the color receptors in our eyes either don’t get activated or get activated just a tiny amount. If everything works just right, if everything is just bright enough to activate enough of our color receptors, when you look at a late Moon you see this jazz-kind-of-cool contrast of warm orange and cool blue and it is as if God is putting on a light show just for you up in the sky.

I’ve never seen the effect captured either in photographs or a painting, but it is very cool.

I almost attempted to capture it Friday, but that’s one of my troubles when trying to think in color—I have no self-confidence. For tricky stuff like that I really need to brace up and force myself. Last Friday I didn’t have the energy so I just did a tiny, black and white sketch.

But someday I’ll be brave and give it a try!

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