A moonrise to end them all

Photographer Mark Gee had been wanting to get a certain kind of moon photo for a long time. After much planning and some failed attempts, he finally succeeded on 28 January 2013, recording a stupendous video of the full moon rising over Mount Victoria Lookout in Wellington, New Zealand.

This sort of visual wizardry is accomplished through two optical illusions. The first is called the moon illusion, which is the way in which the rising (or setting) moon looks much larger compared to its normal appearance higher in the sky. (I’m going to let Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy explain that one in detail.) The second — and more important in this instance — is called perspective distortion, in which perceived distance is flattened. That means background objects look much larger relative to foreground objects than they really are.

The trick to flattening perceived distance is twofold: first, get yourself and your camera far away from what you’re photographing. Second, use a telephoto lens. The greater the distance and longer the lens, the greater the perspective distortion.

Mark Gee got himself and his camera 2.1 kilometers away from Mount Victoria Lookout — on the other side of the city — and used an effective lens length of 1300 mm, which is freaking gigantic. (Actually it was a 500 mm lens with a 2x extender.) Amazingly, the video he produced came straight off his memory card and has not been manipulated in any way.

I came across this video on an io9 post and had a laugh over the comments. One person, who clearly does not understand perspective distortion, thought the whole thing was faked:

This is really beautiful. But I have to ask, if I were on that platform I would have my eyes glued to the moon, and not wandering all over like these people are. For that reason I have my doubts that it is real. I don’t want to, but I do.

Can you imagine seeing this? I realize the perspective may be different where they were standing, but surely your jaw would be on the ground, not walking back and forth talking, and going down the stairs.

The immediate reply was perfect:

Some people have seen the moon before, which makes it less of a big deal.

This is a nice example of the way a little science knowledge can increase one’s appreciation of the world. I’d rather be wowed by a knockout demonstration of dual optical illusions than think, due to ignorance, that the whole thing had to be faked.

(I probably don’t need to say full screen and HD, right?)


About Fletcher DeLancey

Socialist heathen and Mac-using author of the Chronicles of Alsea, who enjoys pondering science, politics, well-honed satire (though sarcastic humor can work, too) and all things geeky.
This entry was posted in astronomy, science, video. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to A moonrise to end them all

  1. Jorge says:

    My first thought:

    Southern hemisphere: that strange place where even the Moon is upside down! 🙂

  2. Lisa Shaw says:

    That’s a gorgeous perspective that makes one really appreciate an ordinary cosmic event that takes place every single month of the year. I practically felt the planet rolling under my feet as I watched.

    I was hoping the video would end as soon as the moon cleared the observation platform, and it did. Nicely done.

  3. joanarling says:

    Stunning! But I was puzzled by the effective focal length of 1300 mm until I looked up the camera Mark used. Indeed, an APS-H sensor with a crop factor of (just under) 1.3, which I hadn’t heard of before. And I am amazed by the careful planning that must have preceded this shot.

  4. Cathy White says:

    Wow! I half expected ET to cycle past.lol

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