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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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Tomorrow, will be the New Moon when the portion of the moon we see from Earth is 0% illuminated by sunshine and so completely engulfed in the moon’s own shadow.

The moon has a day side and a night side, just as Earth does. Due to the angle between the sun, Earth and moon, we see different portions of its day side and night side as the moon phases progress. When it is waxing, we see more of its day side at night until it turns full.

The part of the moon that isn’t in sunlight is often called the “dark side of the moon.” There is a famous record album with that name. But because of the moon’s motion around Earth, the “night side of the moon” that we see from Earth constantly changes. That means there is a permanent far side of the moon, but there is no permanent dark side of the moon.

If you were to spend time in one place on the Moon, you would experience night for about two weeks, followed by about two weeks of daylight.

After billions of years of Earth’s strong gravitational pull, the Moon has actually slowed down so that it takes as long to rotate as it does to orbit once around Earth. It is “tidally locked” with Earth.

But “tidally locked” and the “far side of the moon” do not sound right for a song lyric, and Pink Floyd do say in that album’s final track, “Eclipse

And all that is now
And all that is gone
And all that’s to come
And everything under the sun is in tune
But the sun is eclipsed by the moon

There is no dark side in the moon really
Matter of fact it’s all dark

Tonight the Moon will look like a “half-moon” but it is officially at the First Quarter. It will be 45 percent visible to us, which certainly sounds like about a half-moon. About half of it will be illuminated by direct sunlight, but it will be only “7 days old” in its waxing growth from the New Moon when its unilluminated side was facing the Earth. So, it is a quarter of the way into its cycle of phases from new to full.

moon 4 phases

Quick Review

The Waxing (“increasing”)  crescent is when the Moon appears to be partly but less than one-half illuminated by direct sunlight.

First Quarter is when it looks like half a circle because it has completed one-quarter of an orbit around the Earth from either the full or new position.

Waxing Gibbous is when it appears to be more than one-half but not fully illuminated by direct sunlight.

The most popular phase, the Full Moon, is when the entire illuminated side is facing the Earth.

And then as we see less of it from Earth, the Waning Gibbous appears to be more than one-half but not fully illuminated by direct sunlight.

The Last Quarter is that other half of the Moon being illuminated by direct sunlight, and the Waning Crescent is the other side of the Waxing Crescent.

A nice site to see all the phases on a calendar is MoonGiant.com

Some of you might be surprised to see the Moon out this morning or for the next few days. It’s not a rare thing but because we so strongly associate the Moon with nighttime, it always seems to surprise some people.

Sometimes this view is called the Children’s Moon because it is one time young children who go to bed too early to see the Moon at night can still see it in the sky. If you want to explain it to a child (okay, so maybe it’s an adult), here is some information.

Pretty much anywhere on the planet now looking generally westward after sunrise with a clear blue daytime sky, you can spot the Moon. We just had the Full Moon 3 days ago, so it’s now in a waning gibbous phase and it “rises” after nightfall and “sets” to the west after sunrise, so you see it in the morning sky. It will be climbing higher and higher into the sky each day for the next week.

When the Moon moves into its last quarter phase in four days, it will rise at midnight and set southward around dawn. By the time we reach the New Moon on the 16th, it will moving across the sky with the sun and so not visible in our sky.

More at www.space.com

 

new moon smallToday, May 18, is the day of the New Moon. Some people think of this as the Dark Moon or “No Moon.”

In one of the many celestial plays of motion and opposites, this is when the Moon transitions from the morning to the evening sky. Today, and at this point every month, the Sun and Moon lie on the same side of Earth in space.

The Moon rises with the Sun at sunrise and then crosses the sky with the Sun during the daytime and sets with the Sun at sunset. The New Moon follows the Sun.

For perspective, at the Full Moon, the sun and moon lie on opposite sides of Earth and the Moon will then rise around sunset, cross the sky during the night and set around sunrise.

Have you ever been solunar fishing?  It means fishing based on the rising, setting and phases of the moon.

All fisherman know that the best fishing times are when the fish are feeding which is usually at dawn and dusk. Solunar anglers also pay attention to two other times – moonrise and moonset – and to the phases of the moon.

The Moon seems to have an effect on fish and what they feed upon. Along with the phases, it affects their feeding.

Fishing when sunrise/sunset and moonrise/moonset coincide with new or full moon phases, is the simple explanation of this approach. Fish should be most active 45 minutes before and after these four daily points.

Angler and hunter know that fish and game are most active at sunrise and sunset, but activity near moonrise and moonset is not as obvious because the change in light is not noticeable.

The day of a new or full moon gives the strongest influence in each month.  So, when you are fishing (or hunting) in that period surrounding sunrise or sunset you can anticipate good action. If there is also a moonrise or moonset during that period,  your chances increase. And, if it is a Full or New Moon, it should be the best time of the season.

Of course, anglers usually have more freedom to fish at almost any time of the year, while hunters are limited by the hunting seasons.

You can check any one of a number of solunar calendars to find the best days and times.

For today, 10/7/2012, the Sun Data = Rise: 7:00 AM (all times are EST) and set at 6:28 PM.  Day Length is 11 hrs. 28 minutes. The Moon will rise at 11:36 PM and set at  1:37 PM. It will be overhead at  6:11 AM and “underfoot” at 6:36 PM. The Moon phase is 56% waning gibbous. That makes the major times to fish 6:11 AM – 8:11 AM and 6:36 PM – 8:36 PM. However, today is only an average day of hunting or fishing.

However, 10/15/2012 when the Moon Rise is 7:17 AM and Set is 6:12 PM and it is a New Moon, you have a “best” day and your “major times” are  12:21 AM – 2:21 AM and 12:49 PM – 2:49 PM.

A bit complicated, but there are charts online. And there are apps for your phone.

Have you tried solunar fishing or hunting? Is there validity to it, or is it more “Moon lore?”

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