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What Is Earthshine?

Earthshine is a dull glow which lights up the unlit part of the Moon because the Sun’s light reflects off the Earth's surface and back onto the Moon.

Illustration image

A Waxing Crescent Moon lit up by earthshine.

The best time see earthshine is a few days before and after a New Moon and in the months of April and May.

©bigstockphoto.com/nantela

It is also sometimes called ashen glow, the old Moon in the new Moon's arms, or the Da Vinci glow, after Leonardo da Vinci, who explained the phenomenon for the first time in recorded history.

Why Does it Happen?

Earthshine occurs when sunlight reflects off the Earth's surface and illuminates the unlit portion of the Moon’s surface.

Since the light that generates earthshine is reflected twice – once off the Earth’s surface and then off the Moon’s surface, this light is much dimmer than the lit portion of the Moon.

This phenomenon is called planetshine when it occurs on other planets' moons.

Ability to Reflect Sunlight

Earthshine's brightness is also affected by the Moon's albedo. Albedo is a measurement of how much sunlight a celestial object can reflect. It is measured on a scale, which ranges from 0 to 1. An object that has albedo of 0 does not reflect sunlight and is perfectly dark. A celestial object with an albedo of 1 reflects all of the Sun's rays that reach it.

The Moon has an average albedo of 0.12, while the Earth's average albedo is 0.3. This means that the Moon reflects about 12% of the sunlight that reaches it. The Earth on the other hand, reflects about 30% of all the sunlight that hit its surface. Because of this, the Earth, when seen from the Moon would look about a 100 times brighter than a full Moon that is seen from the Earth.

Best Times to See Earthshine

Earthshine is most apparent one to five days before and after a New Moon. The best time of the day to see it is after sunset or before sunrise.

Scientists studying global warming found that Earthshine is more intense in April and May.

Topics: Astronomy, Moon, Earth, Sun

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Atmospheric Phenomena

  1. What Is a Rainbow?
  2. Rayleigh scattering
  3. Types of Atmospheric Phenomena
  4. What is Earthshine?
  5. Zodiacal Lights or False Dawn
  6. Northern and Southern Lights

The Moon

  1. What Is a Supermoon?
  2. The Moon Illusion
  3. The Moon Phases
  4. The Moon's Effect on Tides
  5. What Is a Micro Moon?
  6. How Can Full Moon Be in the Daytime?
  7. Is a Blue Moon Blue?
  8. The Moon's Orbit
  9. The Far Side of the Moon
  10. What Is a Black Moon?
  11. What Are Moonbows?
  12. Full Moon Names
  13. Taking pictures of the Moon

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