Wednesday, September 30, 2015
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Tuesday, September 29, 2015
DARK LUNAR ECLIPSE (UPDATED): On Sunday night, Sept. 27th, the supermoon passed through the shadow of Earth, producing a total lunar eclipse visible from the Americas, Europe, Africa and parts of Asia. "It was one of the darkest lunar eclipses I have ever seen," reports Kevin R. Witman, who sends this picture from Cochranville, Pennsylvania:
Other observers (see the gallery) also remarked on the darker hue of this lunar eclipse, compared to others in recent years. What caused the change? Atmospheric scientist Richard Keen of the University of Colorado offers one reason: "Supermoon eclipses should be a bit darker. Because of its closeness to Earth, a supermoon passes deeper into the shadow of our planet."
Working independently, Steve Albers of NOAA and Helio Vital of REA/Brazil have suggested another reason: aerosols in the atmosphere.
"Earth's stratosphere is no longer completely clean of volcanic ashes," says Vital. "In fact, lingering aerosols from the explosion of Calbuco, five months ago, may be to blame for that excessive darkening."
Calbuco is a volcano in Chile. After it erupted in April 2015, colorful sunsets were observed around the southern hemisphere for months. Recently, Albers has noted an increase in purple and yellow sunsets around his home town, Boulder CO, and elsewhere. These are telltale colors of volcanic exhaust.
"A thin veneer of aerosols from Calbuco may have now spread to the northern hemisphere," Albers says. "In addition, we could be seeing the effects of residual smoke from forest fires at high altitudes, or the general increase in sulfate pollution that has been documented on a global basis."
Richard Keen, who is a leading expert on volcanic aerosols and lunar eclipses, says "the Sept. 27th eclipse was about 0.5 magnitudes darker than expected for a clear stratosphere. A slight layer of aerosols in the upper troposphere/lower stratosphere might explain this. Also, the Moon passed through the southern part of Earth's shadow, so southern hemisphere aerosols (such as those produced by Calbuco) would have greater effect."
Keen says that he is still "crunching the numbers," and we may have more information soon...