Red Sun, Red Moon

red Moon
Amateur astronomer and astrophotographer Bill Funcheon captured this photo of the red Moon over New Jersey on July 20, 2021. Image via

Americans all across the country have been noticing (and posting photos) the strange colors in both the daytime and nighttime skies.

The Sun and the Moon have been a stronger orange or even blood red. Skies have been a hazy gray. I associate the latter with hot, humid weather and air pollution. grayed with haze.

The sky, Sun, and Moon can appear to have different colors for several reasons – mostly atmospheric. The current redness is caused by the ongoing wildfires on the West Coast. The Bootleg wildfire in Oregon is the biggest contributor this week

Here in Paradelle, thousands of miles from that fire, smoke from this extreme wildfire has arrived. The fire began on July 6. It has already burned 364,000 acres. The jetstream carries it eastward and the Northeast has seen it. Sometimes, I imagine I can smell it, though it might be something more local as the smoke is high in the atmosphere by now.

Firey sunset. The sun sets in the smoky sky
Image via Flickr

The red Sun is caused by smoke particles filling the atmosphere. The longer wavelengths of light appear red and scatter more due to the particles in the air. Seen through clean air molecules, shorter wavelengths of light, which appear to us as blue light, are more effectively scattered.

Looking at the Sun


It has been a very hot week across the U.S.  To launch summer, the U.S. Postal Service issued a set of stamps with NASA views of the Sun from their Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) which was a spacecraft launched in 2010. It has been collecting science data and its two imaging instruments provide complementary views of the Sun. (If you’re wondering about the colors shown here,  see the video at the bottom.)

More than a decade of SDO observations has provided hundreds of millions of images of our neighboring star as it orbits Earth.

The stamps feature 10 images from SDO and most of these images are in extreme ultraviolet light, which is invisible to human eyes.

Here are a few images in motion that are used on the stamps.

The bright flash on the Sun’s upper right is a powerful solar flare. Solar flares are bursts of light and energy that can disturb the part of Earth’s atmosphere where GPS and radio signals travel.

This golden view of the “active Sun” highlights the many active regions that are areas of intense and complex magnetic fields on the Sun – linked to sunspots – that are prone to erupting with solar flares or explosions of material called coronal mass ejections.

This cool-toned image shows a dark area capping the northern polar region of the Sun. This is a coronal hole, a magnetically open area on the Sun from which high-speed solar wind escapes into space. Such high-speed solar wind streams can spark magnificent auroral displays on Earth when they collide with our planet’s magnetic field.

Stick some Sun on your mail this summer.

Closest to the Sun


We will be closest to our Sun for 2021 today, January 2, at 13:51 UTC. That was just now for Paradelle at 8:51 a.m. Eastern Time.

No, it did not feel any warmer. That’s not how the seasons and temperatures on Earth work. Astronomers call this perihelion –  the closest point in Earth’s elliptical orbit around that nearby star. (Greek roots peri + helios for near + sun.)

How close is closest?  Today we are 91,399,453 miles (147,093,162 km) away from the Sun. On my wife’s birthday, July 5, we will be at aphelion (most distant point)  which is 94,510,889 miles (152,100,533 km) away. We are about 3 million miles (5 million km) closer now than in July.

And yet it is a wintry cold here in the Northern Hemisphere because distance does not set the seasons (though it does affect seasonal lengths).

Now, we are moving fastest in our orbit around that star at almost 19 miles per second (30.3 km/sec). I thought I felt a little dizzy the past few days.

Hang on tight.

Happy 4th of Aphelion


It is July 4, 2020 and Earth is at aphelion. That means the planet is at its most distant point from the Sun. Here in Paradelle, it happened early this morning. Aphelion comes from the Greek words apo meaning away, off or apart and helios, for the Greek god of the Sun.

The fact that for most of the Northern Hemisphere it is a hot summer day today should make you realize that the distance of Earth from the sun is NOT what creates the seasons. The seasons result from Earth’s tilt on its axis and today the Northern Hemisphere is tilted most toward the Sun giving us the heat of summer.

Despite diagrams you may have seen, Earth’s orbit is not quite circular – but close – so the distance from the sun doesn’t change much. If you ask most people how far we are from the Sun, the common answer is 93 million miles (150 million km) which is our average distance. Today, Today we are about 3 million miles (5 million km) farther from away from when we are closest in about six months.

Missed Meteors and Getting Closest to the Sun

meteorI missed the first major celestial event of 2020 – The Quadrantids meteor shower which peaked Friday night and early Saturday morning.

Murphy’s Law of Astronomy around here made it rainy and cloudy again. That’s a shame because the Quadrantids are short-lived and known for bright fireball meteors with long, glowing tails.

Poor old constellation Quadrans Muralis (mural quadrant hence the meteors’ name) is one of the former constellations that was demoted, but the meteors continue to shoot out of that quadrant.

sunrise sunset

The second event is unobservable with your eyes. Earth will reach its closest point to the sun for the whole of 2020 on January 4 or 5 (depends on your time zone). It happened today, January 5, at 07:48 UTC (2:48 a.m. Eastern Time) while I was sleeping.

This is what astronomers call perihelion – Greek peri meaning near and helios meaning sun. Shouldn’t it feel warmer if the Sun is “only” 91,398,199 miles (147,091,144 km) away?  Nope. That elliptical orbit has nothing to do with seasons.

In fact, in early July 4, 2020, when the Earth reaches aphelion (most distant point), it will be much hotter here in Paradelle though the Sun will be 94,507,635 miles (152,095,295 km) away from us.

Being 3 million miles closer to the sun today doesn’t seem to make a big difference in our lives – though it seems like it should. It does affect seasonal lengths because right now Earth is moving fastest in its orbit around the Sun. That makes my Northern Hemisphere winter and someone else’s Southern Hemisphere summer the shortest seasons.


Signs of Summer

tiger lily bloom

All the indicators of summer are here in Paradelle: Father’s Day, the smell of barbeques in the air, roses in blooms, green tomatoes in my garden, the first tiger lily blooms were this week, school ending (at least for southern schools and northern private and parochial schools), proud parent prom pictures on Facebook, people headed “down the shore” (as we say in New Jersey) starting with Memorial Day – and then, officially, the summer solstice. (The official part for my neighborhood is June 21, 2019 at 11:54 am EDT.)

Solstices are opposite on either side of the equator. Our summer solstice in the Northern Hemisphere is the winter solstice in the Southern Hemisphere.

I have already written for past solstices of the solstitium (Latin for sol/sun and stitium/stop) and its ancient belief that the Sun appeared to stop at this time.  In our northern hemisphere, the Sun is actually higher in the sky throughout the day, so its rays are hitting Earth at a more direct angle and it is heating us up.

There is usually a Full Moon near the solstice, though there is no astronomical connection.

Although the summer solstice is the longest day of the year, that is relative. It may well seem the same or shorter than other days. In Paradelle, we just had three days of rain and rainy days always seem shorter to me. Today is summerish – reaching up in the 80 degrees and drying out things so that I can cut the grass.

Sunrise today was at 5:24 am at 58° Northeast. I was happy to have slept through it.  Sunset today will be at 8:30 pm at 302° Northwest.

Unlike the ancient ones, we now know that the Sun does not stop today, bit it does cross a path and “shifts” position at a moment in time. I observe the position of the Sun during the year relative to my home and at one time tracked it on my office wall. Isaac Newton did this too. I’m no Newton but I did like being a citizen scientist for my own curiosity and noting that when I was sipping my morning coffee on the couch, the Sun shines right on me. On the winter solstice – when I could use the extra heat – it is coming through a window on the other side of the room.

Whatever your signs of summer are, they probably have arrived too or are soon to appear. Hope you have a good season.