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Remember all the hoopla about the total solar eclipse we witnessed in August of last year? There is another partial one today. This Friday the 13th solar eclipse will quite small and be visible mainly over the Southern Ocean area between Australia and Antarctica, so no media coverage here in the U.S.

My thoughts go back to ancient times and what we would now see as strange responses to solar eclipses. How terrifying must this have been to them?

In American Eclipse, there is the story of a Roman emperor who witnessed a total solar eclipse in A.D. 840 and was so upset by this “omen” that he stopped eating and eventually starved to death. Rome went into a civil war.

The Inca feared that a lunar eclipse was caused by a jaguar attacking the moon. They’d try to drive it away by making noise, including beating their dogs to make them howl and bark.

One more positive reaction occurred in the sixth century B.C., during a battle in Asia Minor between the Medes and the Lydians. The eclipse stopped the battle and it was believed that the eclipse was a sign for them to stop the fighting,

Certainly, ancient people looked at the eclipse and had their eyes damaged or were blinded. That certainly added to the fear. Don’t look into the face of God or the gods.

If you were a believer in 13 as an unlucky number and Friday being an unlucky day (more about that aspect here), then adding a solar eclipse made a trifecta of bad luck.

Also take note that solar and lunar eclipses always come in pairs, with one following the other in a period of one fortnight (approximately two weeks).

This is a New Moon supermoon today and is the first Friday the 13th solar eclipse since December 13, 1974. I won’t be blogging about the next one on Friday September 13, 2080..

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moon

a waning “C” crescent and a waxing “D” crescent

I was out last night with a friend who commented that there was a clear “crescent Moon.” People commonly use that term when a sliver of Moon is showing, but there are two versions of the crescent sliver.

The Moon is always waxing (growing in the lit area we see) and waning, and moving closer and farther away from us. It is surprising how many people have never really noticed that the Moon looks like a looks like a “C” crescent, and later looks like a “D” in its waxing phase.

moon phases

The phases of the Moon as viewed looking southward from the Northern Hemisphere. Each phase would be rotated 180° if seen looking northward from the Southern Hemisphere. The upper part of the diagram is not to scale, as the Moon is much farther from Earth than shown here.

In Hinduism, every part of the cosmos is seen as an action of a god and time is the endless repetition of the same long cycle. In Hindu mythology, Soma represents the god of the Moon.

Soma rides a sky chariot drawn by white horses. Soma was also the name of the elixir of immortality that only the gods can drink. The elixir is stored on the Moon. When the gods drink soma, they draw away from the Moon and it becomes smaller. (I wrote about soma earlier in another context.)

Most people know that the Moon changes its distance from Earth continually because the orbit of the moon is not a perfect circle. It is more like an ellipse, so it will have a point of perigee (closest point to Earth) and apogee (farthest point) each month. Today, May 6, it is at apogee and it is 251,318 miles or 404,457 km away from us.

Back on April 20 perigee, it was  229,108 miles or 368,714 km away. In cosmic terms, a difference of 22,210 miles or 35,743 km is not that much and only astronomers take note of the diference. But occasionally the media will decide to write a story about the “biggest Full Moon of the year” or something similar.

There is a nice animation at time.unitarium.com/moon/ that shows the movement of the Moon in your area and illustrates nicely why we see a Full Moon and how it appears when waxing and waning.  You can set it to any date, so I know that on my next October birthday the Moon will be waxing gibbous and approaching full. Unfortunately, it doesn’t allow you to go back before 2000 or I would take a look at what the Moon was up to when I was born.

moon

Not full, not new – just an old moon for February.

Last month we had two Full Moons, the second one being that Blue Moon that was also a Supermoon, Blood Moon and coincided with a lunar equinox. All that bonus Moon fun will have to hold you over this month because we will not have a Full Moon for February.

Of course, there will be a New Moon on February 15, but most people don’t get excited at all about that black or missing Moon.

If you are feeling a bit lunar lost this month, feel free to read about all the February Full Moons from past years. There is the Moon of Snow and IceIce Moon, or Storm Moon. The names for this month’s moons are not very cheery – Hunger, Bone and Old Moon are all alternative names.

“February” is a name that derives from the Latin februum which means cleansing or purification. The rituals undertaken for this month that the Romans did to prepare for spring occurred at this time. So, maybe the New Moon is a good signal to get to that modern ritual of spring cleaning. Cleansing your altar, ceremonial tools, sacred space, and self as part of the ritual is totally optional.

When I really started paying attention to the Sun, stars and Moon many years ago, one of the things that confused me was why the Quarter Moons looked like Half Moons.

The Moon is at or near its last quarter phase tonight, February 6, and into tomorrow morning. (The precise time is tomorrow at 15:54.)  Take a look tonight and you will see half of the Moon. Half the moon always faces us, and half the moon is always lit by the sun, though we can’t see that. To astronomers, there are no ‘half moons.’

So why does this phase get the name Quarter Moon is we can see half of it lit?  First quarter moon means the moon is one-quarter of the way through the current orbital cycle. Tonight’s third or last quarter moon means the moon is three-quarters of the way through the cycle, as measured from one new moon to the next.

moon phases

The phases of the Moon as viewed looking southward from the Northern Hemisphere. Each phase would be rotated 180° if seen looking northward from the Southern Hemisphere. The upper part of the diagram is not to scale, as the Moon is much farther from Earth than shown here. Image: wikipedia.org

It is all about perspective. At first quarter moon, the near side of the moon (the part we see) is half-illuminated by sunlight and half in its own shadow, so we are seeing half the moon’s day side.

It may also seem curious that in the Southern Hemisphere tonight the right side is 50% lit and in my Northern Hemisphere it is the left side that is bright. Yes, when we enter the first quarter that will be reversed.

A third quarter moon always rises in the middle of the night. It will appear at its highest in the sky around dawn, and will set around midday.


To move away from the sky though, I do like the name “Half Moon.” Half Moon Bay is a town on the California coast that I visited once and the name seems kind of romantic. There is a song called “Half Moon Bay” from 1969 by a band that I followed, Mott the Hoople. The lyrics have nothing to do with the town and the Dylan-esque vocals don’t make the lyrics any happier or romantic. It was a song I liked for its Procol Harum-like organ back then – and the album’s Escher cover is still a favorite. (Listen  on YouTube)

Another more recent song with that same title is by Train.  This one is actually about the California town and more “romantic.”

This ain’t a threat but I think I better warn ya’
Gonna fall in love if you go to California
I did and this is how I know
By the beach north of San José
Met the right girl and it sounds cliché
But we decided not to take it slow

But remember, there may be a Half Moon Bay, but there are no half moons.

We get a Blue Moon when there is a second full moon in one calendar month. That happens on Wednesday, January 31. But our Moon will also pass through the Earth’s shadow to give us a total lunar eclipse. And the triple play comes with this also being the third in a series of three straight full moon supermoons.

There will be another Blue Moon in 2018, and supermoons occur every few months. Eclipses are rarer, but the three occurring all at once is rarer still. This will be the first Blue Moon total eclipse in 150 years for the Americas.

The Moon will be entirely inside the Earth’s dark umbral shadow (totality) for a bit more than an hour.

The term Blue Moon still makes me think of the song “Blue Moon.” It is an oldie, written by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart in 1934. Lots of singers and groups have recorded it (Billy Eckstine and Mel Tormé had early hits) and versions by Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday, Elvis Presley, Bing Crosby, The Mavericks, Dean Martin, The Supremes, Rod Stewart and even an adapted anthem version used by English Premier League football club Manchester City are out there.

But the recording that always pops into my head is the 1961 big hit for doo-wop group The Marcels.

The song pops up in one of my favorite horror-with-a-comedic-twist films, American Werewolf in London, which would be an excellent film to watch on Wednesday night.

If you are more of a listener than watcher, I suggest the film’s soundtrack which is full (no pun intended) of moon songs.

​Long ago, a girlfriend who was deeply into astrology while I was into astronomy, told me that the planets move through the sky and the 12 astrological signs, at varying speeds.

I pay a lot of attention to the Moon and learned that it changes signs once or twice a day. On the other extreme, Saturn spends about 3 years in each sign. Helen told me that the planets take on traits of the sign they are in at that time. Any astronomer will tell you that the signs (constellations) have no effect on the planets, but my girlfriend would have said that it causes a planet to act differently from its normal impact.

Helen did my natal chart (the placement of each planet at time of my birth) because she didn’t believe at all in the general horoscopes for signs that we frequently see online, in newspapers and magazines. You need to look at your very specific chart.

Ganesha

There is a New Moon tonight, January 16. An astrologer might remind me that can be transformative.  Vedic astrology puts this New Moon in the Uttara Ashadha which is symbolized by an elephant’s tusk, and connected to the Hindu elephant god, Ganesha. Ganesha is the “Remover of Obstacles.”

This New Moon is conjoined with Venus which we associate with romantic relationships and friendships and even non-romantic alliances. Combine this with a transit of Mars into Scorpio and we get the ability to transform in positive ways.

What does this mean for my life for the next few days, weeks, and months?  I don’t know.

I read that in India, the new moon is celebrated as Mauni Amavasya. It is a good time to take a vow of silence and do some silent reflection. I’ll stop here.

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