Moon Magic: Researchers Develop New Tool To Visualize Past, Future Lunar Eclipses (w/ Video)

June 29, 2009
The top row of images is comprised of digital photographs taken from Troy, N.Y. of the Feb. 21, 2008 lunar eclipse. The bottom row of images is comprised of computer simulations rendered by researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

(PhysOrg.com) -- Lunar eclipses are well-documented throughout human history. The rare and breathtaking phenomena, which occur when the moon passes into the Earth’s shadow and seemingly changes shape, color, or disappears from the night sky completely, caught the attention of poets, farmers, leaders, and scientists alike.

Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have developed a new method for using computer graphics to simulate and render an accurate of a lunar eclipse. The model uses celestial geometry of the sun, Earth, and moon, along with data for the Earth’s atmosphere and the moon’s peculiar optical properties to create picture-perfect images of lunar eclipses.

The computer-generated images, which are virtually indistinguishable from actual photos of eclipses, offer a chance to look back into history at famous eclipses, or peek at future eclipses scheduled to occur in the coming years and decades. The model can also be configured to show how the eclipse would appear from any geographical perspective on Earth — the same eclipse would look different depending if the viewer was in New York, Seattle, or Rome.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.

“Other researchers have rendered the , the moon, and sunsets, but this is the first time anyone has rendered lunar eclipses,” said Barbara Cutler, assistant professor of computer science at Rensselaer, who supervised the study. “Our models may help with investigations into historical , and they could also be of interest to artists looking to add this special effect to their toolbox.”

Graduate student Theodore C. Yapo presented the study, titled “Rendering Lunar Eclipses,” in late May at the Graphics Interface 2009 conference.

The appearance of can vary considerably, ranging from nearly invisible jet black to deep red, rust, to bright copper-red or orange. The appearance depends on several different factors, including how sunlight is refracted and scattered in the Earth’s atmosphere. Yapo and Cutler combined and configured models for sunlight, the solar system, as well as the different layers and different effects of the Earth’s atmosphere, to develop their lunar eclipse models.

For the study, Yapo and Cutler compared digital photos of the Feb. 21, 2008, total lunar eclipse with computer-rendered models of the same eclipse. The rendered images were nearly indistinguishable from the photos.

Another model they created was a rendering of the expected 2010 lunar eclipse. Yapo said he looks forward to taking photographs of the event and comparing them to the renderings. One potential hiccup, he said, is the April eruption of Mt. Redoubt in Alaska - volcanic dust in the Earth’s stratosphere can make a lunar eclipse noticeably darker and more brown. Yapo and Cutler’s models can account for this dust, but they performed their simulation prior to the eruption, and assumed a low-dust atmosphere.

The research paper can be viewed at:
www.cs.rpi.edu/graphics/eclipse_gi09/

Provided by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (news : web)

Explore further: A Solar Eclipse on the Moon

Related Stories

A Solar Eclipse on the Moon

April 21, 2005

NASA is planning to send people back to the Moon. Target date: 2015 or so. Too bad they won't be there this Sunday because, on April 24th, there's going to be a solar eclipse, and you can only see it from the Moon.

Lunar Eclipse

February 13, 2007

Picture this: The year is 2025 and you're on the moon. "Home" is 100 meters away—an outpost on the rim of Shackleton Crater. NASA started building it five years earlier, and it is growing fast. You're one of the construction ...

Total Lunar Eclipse

February 14, 2008

On Wednesday evening, February 20th, the full Moon over the Americas will turn a delightful shade of red and possibly turquoise, too. It's a total lunar eclipse—the last one until Dec. 2010.

Get Ready For Total Lunar Eclipse Wednesday Night

February 19, 2008

In the late night hours of Feb. 20, 2008, a total lunar eclipse will dazzle the night sky. And this lunar eclipse may be worth staying up for, because it will be the last one until December 2010.

Recommended for you

Image: Hubble sees a dying star's final moments

July 31, 2015

A dying star's final moments are captured in this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. The death throes of this star may only last mere moments on a cosmological timescale, but this star's demise is still quite ...

Exoplanets 20/20: Looking back to the future

July 31, 2015

Geoff Marcy remembers the hair standing up on the back of his neck. Paul Butler remembers being dead tired. The two men had just made history: the first confirmation of a planet orbiting another star.

Earth flyby of 'space peanut' captured in new video

July 31, 2015

NASA scientists have used two giant, Earth-based radio telescopes to bounce radar signals off a passing asteroid and produce images of the peanut-shaped body as it approached close to Earth this past weekend.

Binary star system precisely timed with pulsar's gamma-rays

July 31, 2015

Pulsars are rapidly rotating compact remnants born in the explosions of massive stars. They can be observed through their lighthouse-like beams of radio waves and gamma-rays. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.