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Today is the Harvest Moon for 2017. It is often in September that the Full Moon is closest to the autumnal (fall) equinox, but this year that is the October Full Moon and not the previous one on September 6. It will be full at 2:40 pm for those of us on the east coast of the U.S.

Any actual harvesting in your area might already be done but traditionally it was because farmers could work later into the evening by the light of this moon. Corn, pumpkins, squash, beans and wild rice — the chief staples of Native Americans — were ready for gathering.

Usually, the moon rises an average of 50 minutes later each night, but for the few nights around the Harvest Moon, the moon seems to rise at nearly the same time each night – just 25 to 30 minutes later across the U.S., and only 10 to 20 minutes later for much of Canada and Europe.

We notice the moon more when it stays out all night long, and that would be around the time of  the Full Moon. This is when the Moon is 180 degrees from the sun, or opposite the sun in our sky.

A Full Moon rises around sunset and sets around sunrise. But after that, it is in a waning gibbous phase and rises later each night and sets in the west later each day after sunrise.

Harvest Moon reminds me of an old song that my parents would have sung and danced to in their youth – perhaps at a Harvest Moon Dance.  “Shine On, Harvest Moon” was a popular early-1900s song credited to the married vaudeville team Nora Bayes and Jack Norworth in the era of Tin Pan Alley songs. It became a pop standard, and is still performed today.

It is the tale of a guy who hasn’t had any loving for months and tonight he was ready to make his move on his girlfriend but the Moon wasn’t shining, so she was afraid to be out. He calls to the Moon to please shine.

The night was mighty dark so you could hardly see,
For the moon refused to shine.
Couple sitting underneath a willow tree,
For love they did pine.
Little maid was kinda ‘fraid of darkness
So she said, “I guess I’ll go.”
Boy began to sigh, looked up at the sky,
And told the moon his little tale of woe

Oh, Shine on, shine on, harvest moon
Up in the sky;
I ain’t had no lovin’
Since April, January, June or July.
Snow time, ain’t no time to stay
Outdoors and spoon;
So shine on, shine on, harvest moon,
For me and my gal.

I hope you have a nice Harvest Moon tonight that looks orange in color because that is the stereotypical way the October Full Moon is often portrayed. It looks very harvesty and Halloweenish. But this effect is not seasonal but is caused by the atmosphere of the earth. The reason for the orange color is due to the scattering of light by the atmosphere. When the moon is near the horizon, the moonlight must pass through much more atmosphere than when the moon is directly overhead.

Well, it’s a marvelous night for a moondance
With the stars up above in your eyes
A fantabulous night to make romance
‘Neath the cover of October skies
And all the leaves on the trees are falling
To the sound of the breezes that blow
And I’m trying to please to the calling
Of your heart-strings that play soft and low
And all the night’s magic seems to whisper and hush
And all the soft moonlight seems to shine in your blush

 

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I just felt autumn as the equinox just clicked over in the Northern Hemisphere at 4:02 PM. I queued this post for that time in advance so that I could stand outside and feel it.  Okay, it’s not true that you can feel or even see anything happen at that moment.  But…

The Autumnal equinox of September happens and the astronomical start of fall in the Northern Hemisphere (and spring in the Southern Hemisphere) for a brief time is “equal night” – a day of about the same length as the night.

For real, the Sun crosses the “celestial equator.” This is an imaginary line that marks the equator on Earth extending up into the sky from north to south.

It may not happen tonight or even the next few weeks, but the days and nights are somewhat cooler in Paradelle. The days are definitely getting shorter, though that is hard to observe on any daily basis. I already had to change the setting on the timer that turns on some lights in my house.

When I say that I felt autumn, it is because as I stood outside at that moment of equinox I saw the changes in the plants around me. My vegetable garden’s leaves are turning yellow. I will start pinching out some of the tomato plant’s flowers in order to send all the energy to the remaining fruits. Some of those will never turn red and I will pick them half-ripened to falsely turn red in the house. I’ll grab some green ones before the first frost (not due around here for about another month – but no one knows for sure) and make fried green tomatoes and pickle some of them.

The squirrels have increased their activity. The chipmunks seem even more frantic than usual.

The maple leaves are changing.

In the morning when I take my coffee outside to drink, I see a few insects clinging to the screens or window glass trying to grab some house heat overnight. I find a few insects in flowers that didn’t survive the night.

In Ancient Greek mythology, the equinox is associated with the story of the abduction of Persephone. She was taken from her mother, the harvest goddess Demeter, to the underworld to become the wife of Hades, the god-king of the underworld. Demeter eventually got her daughter back from Hades, but only for nine months of the year. So, every fall Persephone would return to the underworld to spend three months with Hades. During these months, Demeter refused to use her divine skills to make plants grow, explaining why we have three months of winter every year.

Mabon is a modern Neopagan celebration which takes place around the September equinox. It is one of the six Sabbats based on the cycles of the sun. The ceremonies are based on the myth of Persephone, and it celebrates the second harvest and the start of winter preparations.

Gather at Stonehenge or Castlerigg and watch the sunrise. Respect the impending darkness; give thanks to the sunlight.

Is today’s Full Moon (which occurred for me at 3:03 AM) the Harvest Moon? That is one of the Full Moon names that varies in the month that it occurs. You might be harvesting in your locale, but the Harvest Moon is traditionally the full moon that occurs closest to the autumn equinox. Most years, that is in September, though it can be in October. This year the equinox is on September 22, so the October 5th full moon is closer than the one on September 6. No Harvest Moon just yet.

September and October’s  moon when called Harvest and Hunter both share the idea that these moon’s particularly bright appearance and early rising aided farmers’ harvesting times and offered more light to stalk game.

The September and October Full Moons are sometimes said to be larger and even more orange in color. The warmer color of the moon might be seen shortly after it rises because of an optical illusion. When the moon is low in the sky, you are looking at it through more atmospheric particles and pollution than when the moon is overhead, so the atmosphere scatters the bluish component more than the red end of the light. That’s also conversely why moonlight is often seen and depicted as blue from the reflected white light from the sun.

Are these moons bigger? Well, not because the Moon is closer but because we perceive a low-hanging moon to be larger than one that’s high in the sky. This “Moon Illusion” can be seen with any full moon.

From the Choctaw people, I have selected the Mulberry Moon as the name for this month’s Full Moon. The Choctaw are a Native American people originally occupying what is now Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, and Louisiana.

Mulberries are multiple or collective fruits, formed from a cluster of fruiting flowers. Each flower in this inflorescence produces a fruit, but these mature into a single mass. Botanically the mulberry is not a berry but a collective fruit. It looks like a swollen loganberry.

The small fruits swell, change color from red to a darker color and are fat and full of juice.  The color of the fruit does not identify the mulberry species, and there are white mulberries that produce white, lavender or black sweet fruit. Red mulberry fruits are similar but not quite as sweet as the black mulberry. It is the black mulberry fruits that are large and juicy, with a nice sweet and tart balance that gets them the best reviews. Some compare the tartness to a grapefruit. Mulberries also ripen over an extended period of time, so they don’t have to be picked all at once.

The most commonly used name for this month is the Corn Moon. The Celtic name is the Singing Moon and an English Medieval name was the Barley Moon.

There are many Indian tribal names for the Full Moons and they vary widely as they are centered in signs from nature in their geographic area. Moon When the Plums Are Scarlet is used by the Lakota Sioux, and Moon When the Deer Paw the Earth by the Omaha tribe. The Haida of Alaska would call this the Ice Moon, but the Dakotah Sioux call it the Moon When The Calves Grow Hair. The Cree tribe of Northern Plains Canada call this the Snow Goose Moon.

Ice and snow are thankfully not part of September here in Paradelle.

The full moon of September as seen from the northern hemisphere corresponds to the full moon of March as seen from the southern hemisphere, so you southerners can read my Whispering Wind Moon post today.

There’s all kinds of fake news these days. There is even fake news about fake news. There has pretty much always been fake news about science, even before we used the word science.

Imagine all those ancient people wondering about lunar and solar eclipses. How many of them did eye damage by staring up at a solar eclipse? Were the gods or a God punishing us by taking away the Sun, and further punishing those who dared to look at it? Did they pray the Sun would return and rejoice when it did return?

In July 2015, an article online claimed that NASA had confirmed that the Earth will experience 15 days of total darkness between November 15 and November 29, 2015. Supposedly, this had not occurred in over one million years.

Of course, it was fake news. The original story seems to have come from a fake news website Newswatch33 (no link to it here which would only increase its search ranking).

The story is evergreen and came back as happening in November 2016 as that date approached the following year, and I saw it this week as a link in some Facebook feeds as an event for November 2017. I suspect the eclipse publicity brought this “November Blackout” story back and social media will give it some life again. Any number of legitimate news, science or debunking websites will tell you it’s completely fake.

And yet some people believe it. Wouldn’t you think that if  NASA knew that the world will remain in complete darkness for 15 day it would have been covered by the real media and not just by your friends on social media?

The “explanation” of this supposed event was that it would occur because of  another astronomical event between Venus and Jupiter. It was explained that during the conjunction between Venus and Jupiter on October 26, light from Venus would cause gases in Jupiter to heat up and those gasses will cause a large amount of hydrogen to be released into space. The gases will reach the Sun and trigger a massive explosion on the surface of the star, heating it to 9,000 degrees Kelvin. The heat of the explosion would then cause the Sun to emit a blue color. The dull blue color will last for 15 days during which the Earth will be thrown into darkness.”

This bullshit jumps off from the term “conjunctions,” which are real but mostly just visual phenomena. Conjunction, in astronomy, is an apparent close meeting or passing of two or more celestial bodies. It is hardly a rare thing. The Moon is in conjunction with the Sun every month at the phase of New Moon, when it moves between the Earth and Sun and the side turned toward the Earth is dark. That two things in the sky look closer together from our point of view on Earth does not mean that they are in fact close together.

Are Jupiter and Venus ever in conjunction? Yes, and when that happens they can still be over 800 million km apart. (For perspective, the Sun and the Earth are about 150 million km apart.)

Jupiter doesn’t affect the Sun. At about 778 million km from the Sun,  Jupiter could swap places with Venus or Jupiter could disappear and the Sun would go on shining normally.

I suppose we Earthlings would like to believe that amazing things can happen. Add to that the pretty poor understanding of basic science (especially of things astronomical) that most people have retained (oh, it was taught to you in school), and these ridiculous stories more easily gain traction. It’s not that fake news didn’t make its way around a town, country or the world a thousand years ago. Surely, it did – but slowly. Since the rise in popularity of the Internet and social media sharing, hoaxes and fake news has proliferated at an incredibly fast rate.

One of the other big fake science stories is the  “Mars Hoax” which pops up every August online since 2003. That year, a historically close approach of the Red Planet to Earth actually did occur. But it has become an annual event online and the closeness has grown so that the headline or link will say that on some particular night in August, Mars will appear as big as the full moon. Totally untrue. That didn’t even happen in 2003. It will never happen.

This year there was a new fake story to start the year saying that on January 4, 2017 it would be “Zero Gravity Day”  when people on Earth would be able to experience weightlessness if they jumped into the air at a specific moment that day. How many people believed that one? I don’t have that number, but I suspect it is not zero.

That particular story sent me back to childhood and listening to the humorist Jean Shepherd on the radio. At least once, he tried to get listeners to jump as high as they could on his command to test a theory that if we removed enough weight from the Earth all at once, we could tip the planet. We knew it was Shep yanking our chain, but I did jump on his command just for the heck of it.

I was talking to a friend a few weeks ago about fake news and I said that, of course, everyone knows that headlines from The Onion or The Borowitz Report are quite deliberately fake and satiric. My friend didn’t know that and didn’t think he had ever seen any of those stories. As someone on Facebook and Twitter, I’m sure he has seen them. I hope he didn’t believe any of them.

Sure, Andy Borowitz is published by The New Yorker, a very legitimate and respected magazine, but his Borowitz Report web page says right at the top “Satire from the Borowitz Report. Not the news.” But you don’t see that tagline disclaimer when someone posts a link to one of his stories. You see “Trump Says Sun Equally to Blame for Blocking the Moon,” and think that since President Trump has said so many ridiculous things lately that it might actually be true. It is getting harder to be ridiculous these days.

The Onion‘s headlines tend to be a bit easier to spot as satire – “‘My Work Here Is Done,’ Smiles Contented Bannon Before Bursting Into Millions Of Spores,” for example – but I’m sure there are people who read them (and pass them on) sometimes as real news.  SAD – as our President might comment about this in a tweet.

 

 

eclipse from space

From space, the Moon’s shadow during a solar eclipse appears as a dark spot moving across the Earth. – NASA Earth Observatory

Get your t-shirts and protective eyewear because The Great American Solar Eclipse will arrive on Monday!

This Sea-To-Shining-Sea Solar Eclipse is rare in that it is visible across the country, although only total along a narrow path. The eclipse will begin over the Pacific Ocean at 8:46 am Pacific Time. Moving inland, it will reach the western border of Idaho at 10:10 am, Wyoming at 10:16 am, and Nebraska at 10:25 am local time. It will cross northeastern Kansas starting at 11:36 am local time), Missouri (11:46 am), southern Illinois (11:52 am), western Kentucky (11:56 am), Tennessee (11:58 am), northeastern Georgia (1:07 pm). It will pass over Charleston, South Carolina at 1:13 pm and then pass over the Atlantic Ocean.

Where I will be in New Jersey on Monday, which is north of the path of totality, the sun will appear partially eclipsed with about 73% of the sun being covered by the Moon which will still be an incredible sight. I will see the effect of the eclipse from 1:16 pm to 4:09 pm ET.

Here is a tool that will allow you to see how and when the eclipse will look based on your zip code.

The Moon will pass between Earth and the Sun, and blocking all direct sunlight. It will turn day into darkness in varying degrees depending on where you are viewing.

You probably have not seen a total solar eclipse if you have lived in the United States. The solar eclipses that were total in the past 100 years were either not visible here or only visible in a few locations.

But I certainly remember them occurring. One that stands out in my memory was on March 7, 1970. It wasn’t total where I was that day in New Jersey. From central Florida, the path went up the coast through Virginia’s Eastern Shore.  Two years later, Carly Simon referred to it in “You’re So Vain” when she sang  “You flew your Lear jet up to Nova Scotia – to see the total eclipse of the sun.”

If you are in the path of totality or off to the side and planning to watch the Sun, you will need eye protection. According to NASA, it is safe to look at a total solar eclipse with the naked eye only when the face of the sun is totally obscured by the Moon. Check out this article on space.com for more information.

I am fascinated by the records of historical eclipses. They are often used to try to more accurately date events.

A solar eclipse of June 15, 763 BC mentioned in an Assyrian text is important for the Chronology of the Ancient Orient.

The ancients interpreted all eclipses, lunar or solar, as omens or portents. But the solar eclipses are certainly more dramatic and jarring and enter the mythology of many cultures.

Who was eating the Sun? In Vietnam, people believed that a solar eclipse was caused by a giant frog devouring the Sun. Norse cultures blamed wolves, in Korea it was dogs, and in ancient China, it was a celestial dragon. The Chinese word for an eclipse, chih or shih, means to eat.

In Hindu mythology, the deity Rahu is beheaded by the gods for capturing and drinking Amrita, the gods’ nectar. Rahu’s head flies off into the sky and swallows the Sun causing an eclipse.

Greek historian Herodotus wrote that Thales of Miletus predicted an eclipse that occurred during a battle between the Medes and the Lydians. Both sides put down their weapons and declared peace as a result of the eclipse. That exact eclipse remains uncertain, but a candidate is one on May 28, 585 BC.

Historians trying to establish the exact date of Good Friday have tried using the darkness described at Jesus’s crucifixion as a possible solar eclipse. This has not been successful since Good Friday is recorded as being at Passover, which is held at the time of a full moon and solar eclipses are connected to a New Moon like the one on Monday. Also, the Bible says that the darkness lasted from the sixth hour to the ninth, and three hours is way too long a time. Totality maxes out at about 8 minutes, although the partial darkness can last much longer.

We don’t have many reliable records of eclipses before 800 AD. The recording begins with Arab and monastic observations in the early medieval period.

The first recorded observation of the corona was made in Constantinople in 968 AD. The first known telescopic observation of a total solar eclipse was made in France in 1706. English astronomer Edmund Halley accurately predicted and observed the solar eclipse of May 3, 1715.

Black Sun

Totality’s end in Longyearbyen, Svalbard, Norway – photo by György Soponyai via Flickr

The Black Sun was the name given to a solar eclipse in Mesoamerican mythology. It had mystical meanings and was connected to the god Quetzalcoatl and his entry into the Underworld. For these ancients, there were two suns, the young Day Sun and the ancient Dark Sun. Some scholars regard the mythological Black Sun not as not only a thing to fear, but as the ancient female origin of all. It is both tomb and womb and its oneness integrates death and the expectation of birth.

If you get to observe this solar eclipse in person, you’ll have something to tell the next generation. And you will be able to perhaps understand in some small way the wonder that must have filled ancient observers.

This weekend (tonight into early Saturday and Saturday into Sunday, August 11-12 and August 12-13) will be the peak nights of the 2017 Perseid meteor shower.

The Perseids get their name because they appear to come from the constellation Perseus. Perseus is a mythological Greek hero. He beheaded the Gorgon Medusa and saved Andromeda from a sea monster Cetus. Perseus was the son of the mortal Danaë and the god Zeus. In the night sky, constellations named after other ancient Greek legends surround Perseus, including Andromeda to the west and Cassiopeia to the north.

In 1866, after the perihelion passage of the Swift-Tuttle comet in 1862, the Italian astronomer Giovanni Virginio Schiaparelli discovered the link between meteor showers and comets. A meteor shower is the result of an interaction between a planet, such as Earth, and streams of debris from a comet.

In John Denver’s song “Rocky Mountain High”, he alludes to watching the Perseid meteor shower in the mountains near Aspen, Colorado – “I’ve seen it raining fire in the sky.”

A much stranger reference is the Catholic religion’s reference to the Perseids as the “tears of Saint Lawrence.” The belief was that his tears returned to Earth once a year on August 10 which is the canonical date of that saint’s martyrdom in 258 AD. Saint Lawrence was said to have been burned alive on a gridiron. From that came the origin of the Mediterranean folk legend that the shooting stars are the sparks of that fire. Furthermore, it was believed that during the night of August 9–10, the cooled embers of that fire appear in the ground under plants, and are known as the “coal of Saint Lawrence.” I checked around my garden Wednesday night. No coals.

This weekend you can watch from late evening until dawn. The meteor showers have been “falling” for several weeks, but this weekend should be the peak. The greatest number of meteors typically fall in the hours before dawn. In a remote location and on a “moonless” night, you might see 50+ meteors per hour. For 2017, there will be a bright waning gibbous moon after midnight. And I will be in Northern New jersey, not far from New York City, which will make viewing more difficult. But I still should be able to see those bright enough to overcome the city and moonlit glare.  This year they may be a “Perseid outburst” with 200 meteors per hour at the peak.

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