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how to see "Da Vinci’s Light" Illuminate the crescent moon this week

Hey Ray: Earthshine


Those looking up at the night sky this week will see a faint, ghostly glow illuminating the full moon.

The phenomenon known as the “Da Vinci Glow” is named after the artist and inventor Leonardo da Vinci. In addition to his artistic endeavors, the Renaissance-era creator set out to solve the mystery of what was once known as “Earthshine,” according to NASA.

Celestial phenomena are only visible when there is a crescent moon on the horizon at sunrise or sunset. During the event, the crescent side of the moon shines brightly and the dark side of the moon is visible as cloudy. There is no light because the moon itself is illuminated. It’s made by planet Earth, whose light can brighten the night sky 50 times brighter than a full moon, NASA says.

Crescent Moon and Earthshine

Earthshine, or Da Vinci’s glow, reflects the position of a crescent moon in Canada.

/ Getty Images

How did Leonardo da Vinci discover the cause of apparitions?

In the 16th century, da Vinci set out to solve the mystery of those ghostly lights, NASA said. He made a drawing to show the phenomenon which can be found in his notebooks and is commemorated in the “Codex Leicester”, a collection of da Vinci’s scientific writings.

Da Vinci, like his contemporaries, was working with an incomplete understanding of the solar system. According to NASA, the sun at the center of the solar system wouldn’t be revealed for another two decades and, of course, no one had yet traveled to the moon. As a result, not much was known about the Sun’s proximity to the Earth.

According to NASA, the ‘Codex Leicester’ contains a page titled ‘Of the Moon: No Solid Body Is Lighter Than Air’. In the entry, da Vinci mentions several ideas, including a theory that the moon has an atmosphere and an ocean. He was right on the first point, though NASA missions have debunked the latter. Da Vinci also wrote that the moon acts as a reflector of light.

France-Leonardo da Vinci-Paintings-Exhibition

This photo taken on Oct. 23, 2019 shows Studies on the Ashen Glow of the Moon from Leonardo da Vinci’s scientific book Codex Leicester during the opening of the “Leonardo da Vinci” exhibition at the Louvre Museum in Paris on Oct. 22, 2019.

Francois Guillot/AFP via Getty Images

Using this information, he proposed a hypothesis: Earthshine’s ghostly glow was caused by sunlight bouncing off Earth’s oceans and hitting the Moon.

According to NASA, da Vinci was right about the broad strokes of the event. Later research would show that it wasn’t light reflected from Earth’s oceans that caused the glow. Instead, the primary source was light reflected from clouds.

How can I see Da Vinci’s light?

According to Live Science, the aurora can only be seen when a thin crescent moon is visible near the horizon during the first or last few days of the moon’s orbit. It’s happening this week, making now a good time to try to watch the event.

In general, Earthshine is brightest between April and June, NASA said.

According to Live Science, the best days to see it after sunset are Sunday (May 21), Monday (May 22) and Tuesday (May 23) next week. Try looking at the sky in the hour after sunset and you might get lucky.

Glow does not require special equipment. In fact, it is best seen with the unaided eye. A small telescope or a pair of binoculars can help but are not required.

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Kerry Breen

Kerry Breen

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