The other day my wife commented on an image of the sun and moon, shown together in the same frame, lovely and amazing, at the north pole. The image was posted on a co-worker’s door. Michelle brought the amazing image home last night at my prompting. Hah. No way.

I did a google image search for ‘sun moon north pole’ to see what I could see on this, and 516,000 images were returned. The first page of results shows how endemic the proliferation of this image is:

I started following the links to see what people were saying about this image. “An amazing picture of the sunset at the northpole. The moon was very close that night. You’ll probably never see another image like this.” seemed to be the most popular caption. It was everywhere.

It was in a lot of inspirational and spiritual blogs. Most remarked on the stark beauty at the pole. It was on a lot of alarmist blogs ("It’s melting, it’s melting). (Well, it is melting, but not quite like this.) And a lot of Political blogs: somehow both the right and left claim it to prove their point of view. A few blogs de-bunked it.

Here is the image, a bit closer:

I traced the image back to fantasy artist Inga Nielsen

A quick look through her gallery shows many, many fantasy images. Strange worlds with their very own celestial mechanics.

Somehow, this particular image was selected as the Astronomy Picture of the Day, NASA’s brilliant and beautiful website, where each day about a zillion people receive via email or by navigation/download at this URL an exceptionally cool image of something to do with space. Each image has a short narrative written by a scientist. And usually several interesting links.

Nielsen’s image was the APOD on June 20th, 2006. I suppose it got passed around, and taken as “real” since the source is legitimate. Hmm. Should have read the caption.

The thing is, by some beautiful quirk of fate, or guiding hand, the sun and moon seem to be the same size in our sky. Astronomers call this the ‘angular size.’ The perceived size of the moon and sun derives from their actual size combined with their actual distance. It’s wild that these two objects’ perceived size are almost identical. Think ‘Solar Eclipse’ – one of nature’s most awe-inspiring moments.

Anyhow, the sun is a fixed point of light, the earth and the moon’s orbits do not vary, so the angular size of the moon and sun, from earth, is constant. These two objects will always appear to be the same size in our sky. This image can only exist in some other world, imagined or real, but not on our home planet.