Feeling the Lunar Pull

Photo by Madex on Pexels.com

It is 239,000 miles away and pretty much a wasteland with nothing to breathe in, 243 degrees Fahrenheit days, and 272 degrees below zero nights. And yet, I have always been drawn – like tides – to things lunar. I have no desire to go to the Moon. My fascination with the moon is what it changes about our planet and the people on it. I enjoy reading about gravity, tides and astronomical events, but I am more interested in things like moonshine, honeymoons, and full moon mythologies.

The Moon has its own category on this site and I write something for each Full Moon, but you don’t need the Moon to be “full” in order to see or feel its influence on Earth.

Bird watchers doing their bird counts use the full moon as a backlit point of reference for watching the night sky. The majority of migrating birds (swallows, sparrows, herons, warblers, flycatchers, nuthatches, wrens, orioles and most others) are moving at night.

Luna Moth

Another lunar flyer is the moon moth. They are the large, colorful and feathery-antennaed ones. I have seen one live only once when I was quite young and didn’t know what I was seeing. I had to look it up in a big book. (Remember big reference books?)

Most moths and butterflies come out of their dormant stage because the temperatures start to moderate – like plants sensing spring. But luna moths’ pupa have a clear moon roof (really, a cuticle) that lets their brain detect lengthening days through its cocoon. Some natural magic tells them that it is time to leave the cocoon, head up a tree and hang upside down until their wings are ready.

There are also moon fruits, like moonseeds, which are not for us mere humans to eat (dangerous!) but are important for many birds.

Most powerfully and well-known are the ways that the Earth and moon synchrony affects gravity and how those pulls move our oceans. That is a very predictable and precise pull that we call tides. Those twice-a-day highs and lows might also be affecting the water inside you. After all, more than half of your body is liquid.

If lunar cycles affect insects, birds, fish, and other mammals, why not humans? Is it the fluids within us that are affected, or is it the moon’s changing reflected light?

On Earth, there are those not-land-not-sea places called intertidal zones where marine organisms live, reproduce, and die in sync with what the moon controls.

What about human lunacy? Lunacy is that word (from the Latin luna for moon) created to explain the madness that was once thought to be caused by Full Moons.

You have probably heard at least once that crime, emergency room admissions, depression, suicides, road kills,  birth rates, stock market performance, dog bites, and medical miracles are affected by the moon. The science behind all those is questionable, but the belief and interest in them is real.

The article mentions that owls are less active when the moon is full and field mice eat more, while badgers mate more often, and those undersea creatures forage more in those darker new-moon periods.  Maybe you can explain some of these things by saying that predators are less likely to see you when it is darker, so that’s when you are more active – but that takes the Romance out of it.

Moonbow in Maui from flickr.com/photos/haikugarry/

The moon phenom I still need to experience is a moonbow. This nighttime rainbow is even more rare than daytime beauty. You need a clear, dark night, heavy mist or raindrops in front of you, and a particularly bright full or near-full moon shining low in the sky behind you. There’s a full moon coming up in a few days – Be Ready.

More at  motherearthnews.com/Nature-Community/Lunar-Nature.aspx

Lying in a hammock

Photo: S Migaj

It isn’t summer for another month, but it only takes a few hot days and things growing in the garden to put me into summer mode. Today I was lying on the couch outside in the Sun, feeling lazy and feeling good, and thinking about this poem by James Wright where he is “Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota.”

Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly,
Asleep on the black trunk,
Blowing like a leaf in green shadow.
Down the ravine behind the empty house,
The cowbells follow one another
Into the distances of the afternoon.
To my right,
In a field of sunlight between two pines,
The droppings of last year’s horses
Blaze up into golden stones.
I lean back, as the evening darkens and comes on.
A chicken hawk floats over, looking for home.
I have wasted my life.

by James Wright, from his Collected Poems

The Missed Moon

I missed the March Full Moon. Actually, I only missed posting here about it. I saw it very clearly in a Caribbean sky that was much darker than in Paradelle and filled with more stars. Venus and Jupiter were brighter than many stars that week.

I could have posted something using my phone but I was computerless for my vacation and trying to stay offline for most of the time. I had queued up posts for when I was gone, so to the online world I was still home and doing the usual things.

The common name for the March lunar fullness is the Worm Moon which was on March 7, 2023 at 7:40 AM EST or 12:40 PM UTC. I saw no worms on St. John. I don’t even know if they have worms though I suspect the critters are pretty global. There were no worms popping up from the soil back home in Paradelle where winter made a late appearance including the first snow of the season. This was the third and last Full Moon of the Winter 2023 season as it occurs before the spring equinox, and worms stayed below the frozen soil.

As I type this post, the current Moon is in the Waning Gibbous phase. On this day, the moon is 20.98 days old and 70.64% illuminated with a tilt of 4.872°. The approximate distance from Earth to the moon is 381,542.38 km and the Moon sign is Scorpio.

Tonight’s Micromoon Is Still Full

A view of Earth from our Moon. We look micro.

You’ve heard of the Supermoon, right? That is when the Full Moon is at its closest point (perigee) to Earth. It looks a bit larger to the naked eye. It’s not an astronomical term but more of a popularized term.

So, it is no surprise that the opposite – a micromoon – began to be used when a Full Moon or a New Moon coincides with apogee – the point in the Moon’s orbit farthest away from Earth.

The Moon orbits Earth in an elliptical path, which means one side of the path is closer to the Earth than the other.

The January 2023 Full Moon is typically called the Wolf Moon. It will be full at 6:08 PM EST or 11:08 PM UTC. It is considered to be the first Full Moon of the Winter 2022-2023 season as the December 2022 Full Moon occurred prior to the Winter Solstice. This is the Full Moon in Cancer.

How different will the Moon look tonight? It is further away and looks approximately 14% smaller than a Supermoon – though that is easy to discern to the naked eye. The illuminated area appears 30% smaller, so it might look a little less bright.

Old folklore accounts suggest that Full, New, Super, and Micro Moons all affect human mental health and bring on natural disasters, like earthquakes, but no scientific evidence supports any such correlation. Still, be on the lookout tonight…

Can a New Moon Be Super?

The New Moon is the phase when to the naked eye there is no Moon. The New Moon is when the Sun and Moon are aligned, with the Sun and Earth on opposite sides of the Moon. The alignment of the Sun, the Moon, and the Earth leaves the side of the Moon that faces the Earth in darkness. This is called conjunction or syzygy.

When the Full Moon or New Moon occurs near the Moon’s closest approach to Earth, its perigee, it is often called a Supermoon. How super will this New Moon look to us? Not super at all. Tonight’s Moon, as with any other New Moon, won’t be visible from Earth.

But what is worth noting about tonight is that the dark night skies coincide with the peak of the Ursids meteor shower. (I’ve posted about the Ursids before, so read about them here.) They are a meteor shower that I associate wit the Winter Solstice and Christmas.

The dark sky (though still lots of light pollution here in Paradelle) is also an excellent time to spot Mercury in the night sky.

Moon Festival for Autumn

Illustration by Grace Lin
from her book Where the Mountain Meets the Moon

The “Moon Festival,” also known as the “Mid-Autumn Festival,” or “Mooncake Festival,” is the second most important festival in China after the Chinese New Year. Celebrations include worshiping the moon, lighting paper lanterns, and eating mooncakes. The Mid-Autumn Festival is held on the 15th of the 8th lunar month in the Chinese calendar around the autumn equinox, but the date varies in different parts of the world and on different calendars. Chinese people will enjoy a 3-day break from September 10 to 12. Here it will be celebrated by most people on September 10, which is also the September Full Moon. Our Harvest Moon is a similar marking of this time of the seasons.

I will attend one of tea expert Selina Law‘s festival celebrations locally. She shares customs and stories about the holiday and provides samples of different types of tea and mooncake.

The Mid-Autumn Festival originated from the Chinese attention to and worship of celestial phenomena. It evolved from the worship of the Moon in autumn in ancient times when ancient Chinese emperors offered sacrifices to the Moon in autumn to pray for a good harvest in the coming year.

This is a traditional festival celebrated in Chinese culture and similar holidays are celebrated in Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and other countries in East and Southeast Asia.

There are numerous varieties of mooncakes consumed within China and beyond. The type I knew when I was younger is the Cantonese mooncake which my Chinese friend would give me. is the most famous variety. Typically, a Cantonese mooncake is a round pastry with a rich thick filling usually made from red bean paste or lotus seed paste. It has a thin, salty, egg crust. It is cut into small wedges, accompanied by tea.

Some of the other festival traditions are certainly things anyone can participate in this weekend. Traditions include: reuniting with the family over a meal, paying closer attention to the Moon, making and lighting colorful lanterns, giving small gifts, and sometimes drinking a special liquor, such as cassia or Osmanthus wine. I have yet to try that drink though I looked again this week for it, unsuccessfully, in stores.

Thanking the Moon, written and illustrated by the award-winning and prolific author Grace Lin. It would be a good read-aloud book to let children know about the holiday and possibly about another culture. It is the story of a Chinese-American family celebrating the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival. They have a picnic in the moonlight with mooncakes, pomelos (the largest citrus fruit and an ancestor of the grapefruit), cups of tea, and colorful lanterns. Everyone sends thanks and a secret wish up to the Moon. A moonlight picnic sounds like an excellent family (or couples) activity for this weekend.