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July 20, 1969: the Apollo 11 moon landing. Next year will be the 50th anniversary of that event and I’m sure there will be some celebrations, but I thought about it the other night when I was staring up at that big Full Moon.

I remember the day and the live broadcast on CBS, with commentary by Walter Cronkite and former astronaut Wally Schirra and live audio from Mission Control in Houston and the Apollo 11 astronauts.

I went online and check my facts and put on The Police’s non-historical song “Walking on the Moon” in the background. “Giant steps are what you take, walking on the moon…”

July 1969 was only about 8 years since the flight of the Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin and then the American Alan Shepard that started the “space race.” President Kennedy made the challenge to put a man on the moon before the decade was out.

NASA had made a rather bold decision to send Apollo 8 all the way to the moon using the new massive Saturn V rocket. But they didn’t land. On July 16, Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center and 4 days later they would reach the Moon.

The Apollo 11 crew was Neil A. Armstrong, commander, Michael Collins, command module pilot and Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin Jr., lunar module pilot. I felt bad for Collins at the time because he didn’t get to actually step on the Moon.

I recall sitting in my New Jersey living room staring at the small black and white TC with its “rabbit ear” antenna that was pulling in a signal from CBS News in New York City, but I felt like it was getting a signal from the Moon.

I was 15. It was an eventful summer: Woodstock, the Manson murders, the Stonewall riots. We were a year out from the “Summer of Love.” I had been a year since my father had died.

In the summer of 1969, I was listening to my two new albums: The Who’s double album Tommy which launched a bunch of concept albums, and The Beatles’ Get Back which was a sad release because we knew The Beatles were done as a group. “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine in” by the Fifth Dimension was a pop hit version of the song from the radical Broadway musical Hair.

I finally got to see the film Midnight Cowboy which made a big impression on me. John Schlesinger’s film starring Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman was released with the dreaded X rating. I had to wait until there was a lazy teenager in the local theater box office who didn’t care if I bought a ticket. That year i also saw two other films that influenced me in very different ways: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Easy Rider.

I know there are people who still say that the moon landing was faked. I suspect some of that silliness comes from the fact that CBS News did use animation and simulations in their coverage and labeled them as such. No one could transmit live video footage from the moon, so CBS made their own animations and a mockup model so viewers could see something and get an idea of what was happening on the moon.

There is also the actual film footage of the lunar landing and walk from the 16mm film cameras mounted on the module that landed on the Moon and from the window video camera onboard Apollo 11’s Lunar Module “Eagle.” But much of that footage didn’t get to us until they returned to Earth.

It as a tense program to watch. Neil Armstrong’s heart rate peaked at 150 beats per minute at landing, as compared to his resting heart rate of 60 bpm. At around 10 minutes to landing, the astronauts link to Mission Control cut out briefly, which was a terrifying moment.

It is worth noting for people who did not live through that era that there were also intermittent program alarms and error codes from the rather primitive computers on board and even back in Houston. The Lunar Module’s computer only had 4KB of memory. This article takes up more than 4KB. As is often pointed out, your smartphone is several thousand times more powerful than the spacecraft’s computer.

I added some video below and you can see the CBS animation showing the fake LM landing on the fake Moon before the actual landing. They didn’t actually sync up with the real landing, so when Buzz Aldrin says “engine stop,” the animation had already landed us based on the scheduled landing time.

Armstrong and Aldrin walked around and collected samples for two hours. They returned safely to Earth.

Twelve astronauts walked on the Moon’s surface. Six of those drove Lunar Roving Vehicles on the Moon. Three astronauts flew to the Moon twice, of which two landed. None landed on the Moon more than once. None were women, so there is still history to be made.

The nine Apollo missions to the Moon occurred between December 1968 and December 1972. Gene Cernan, commander of the last Apollo mission left the lunar surface with these words: “We leave as we came and, God willing, as we shall return, with peace, and hope for all mankind.”

The “Summer of Love” was past. Vietnam was in at full power and my draft registration and draft lottery was a few years away. August 15-18 would be Woodstock. I started out for the festival but hit a ton of traffic and NY State Troopers who discouraged us and so we headed home. I wasn’t one of the nearly 400,000 people who showed up at a farm in Bethel, New York and saw Jimi Hendrix, the Who, the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane and so many others.

The events of 1969 would help define that era.

Tonight, July 20, that bright “star” near the moon is no star. It is Jupiter.

Jupiter is shining more brightly than any star now (though Mars is even brighter). The moon and Jupiter are particularly close tonight and during this weekend.

Venus and Mars are the other starlike objects that outshine Jupiter in the evening sky, but you can tell the difference. Venus is in the western sky as darkness falls. Mars is in the southeast horizon at nightfall.  Jupiter will be near the moon for this weekend.

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..

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.

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