Moon magic: Researchers develop new tool to visualize past, future lunar eclipses

Jun 08, 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. Credit: Rensselaer/Yapo

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 visualization 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.

Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have developed a new method for using computer graphics to simulate and render an accurate visualization of a lunar eclipse. Image "A" is a photograph of the Feb. 21, 2008, eclipse. The other images are computer renderings of the same eclipse with b) no atmospheric dust, c) light aerosol attenuation, and d) heavy dust particulate. Credit: Rensselaer/Yapo

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.

"Other researchers have rendered the night sky, 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 atmospheric phenomena, 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 lunar eclipses 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.

Source: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (news : web)

Explore further: Mysteries of space dust revealed

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Get Ready For Total Lunar Eclipse Wednesday Night

Feb 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.

Total Lunar Eclipse

Feb 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.

A Solar Eclipse on the Moon

Apr 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 ...

Lunar Eclipse

Feb 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 ...

Passage graves from an astronomical perspective

Dec 18, 2008

Passage graves are mysterious barrows from the Stone Age. New research from the Niels Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen indicates that the Stone Age graves' orientation in the landscape could ...

Recommended for you

Mysteries of space dust revealed

13 hours ago

The first analysis of space dust collected by a special collector onboard NASA's Stardust mission and sent back to Earth for study in 2006 suggests the tiny specks open a door to studying the origins of the ...

A guide to the 2014 Neptune opposition season

18 hours ago

Never seen Neptune? Now is a good time to try, as the outermost ice giant world reaches opposition this weekend at 14:00 Universal Time (UT) or 10:00 AM EDT on Friday, August 29th. This means that the distant ...

Informing NASA's Asteroid Initiative: A citizen forum

Aug 28, 2014

In its history, the Earth has been repeatedly struck by asteroids, large chunks of rock from space that can cause considerable damage in a collision. Can we—or should we—try to protect Earth from potentially ...

Image: Rosetta's comet looms

Aug 28, 2014

Wow! Rosetta is getting ever-closer to its target comet by the day. This navigation camera shot from Aug. 23 shows that the spacecraft is so close to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko that it's difficult to ...

User comments : 0