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Our Moon is always up there and one half is always illuminated by sunlight and the nighttime half is in its own shadow, even though we don’t always see that.

I post a lot about the Moon and I’m hardly alone in being fascinated by it. You may have an astronomical interest in it, or maybe a more Romantic interest. Either way, you probably only think of the view of the Moon from Earth and not the other way.

Right now we are in the last quarter phase when we see half the moon’s day side, and half its night side. I recently discovered that the shadow line dividing day from night is called the lunar terminator.

Here’s another way to view the moon, if only theoretically. If you were on the moon now while it is in its last quarter phase, as it is today, and you were looking back at Earth, you’d see the Earth at its first quarter phase.

Perhaps some day, a lunar-living blogger will post regularly about the phases of the Earth.

 

firts-quarter-earth

As seen from the moon, the terminator on the first quarter Earth depicts sunrise, as the first quarter Earth waxes toward its full phase.

 

Tonight, shortly after sunset (4:40 ET), look for the sliver of the waxing crescent moon. From mid-northern latitudes, the illuminated points direct you to the setting sun and to Saturn. The planet is between the sunset and moon and from there it will follow the sun below the horizon before nightfall. It will do its own setting about an hour after sunset and will be very difficult to see in the glare of evening twilight.

double moon hoaxThe idea that it will look like there is a double Full Moon this week on the August 27 because Mars is passing so close to Earth that it appears the same size as the Moon in the night sky, is complete lunacy.

This is a story – usually accompanied by a photo like the one here that I really hesitated to spread around again – that has had a very healthy life on social media and even earlier via email since the turn of the century.

It really gained power in 2003 when Mars did pass within 35 million miles of Earth on Aug. 27 of that year. Yes, that was its closest approach to our planet in nearly 60,000 years. But even though Mars appeared six times bigger and 85 times brighter in the night sky than it normally does, it was nowhere near the size of the Moon. It still looked like the reddish star.

If you have time to waste and search “double moon,” you’ll get lots of results. Facebook, the main vector of misinformation these days, has over a million shares on the hoax.  There may be a nice Full Moon to see in your night sky this week, but nothing more captivating about it than the monthly wonder of seeing it up there.

February 3rd is the Full Moon for 2015.  For the Cherokee, it is the Bone Moon or “month when the stars and moon are fixed in the heavens” – even though we know that they are not fixed. On this site, I have called it by some of its other names: the Snow, Storm, Ice Moon, and the Hunger Moon.

It is a tough month of winter for most of the United States. This month’s Full Moon names were most associated with the harsh weather or depleting stores of food. It makes sense for a Hunger Moon, maybe even a Bone Moon, as the food and meat is gone and only the bones remain. When I am hiking in the woods, I sometimes come across the bones of animals that did not make it through the winter. White bones, picked clean by hungry animals, white on the snow and even more so in the light of the Full Moon.

Our Colonial ancestors called this simply the Winter Moon or the Trapper’s Moon, a name that came from eastern Algonquin Indian traditions. Though the tradition is (thankfully) not as common today, this would be the time when it was optimal for trapping beaver, fox, and mink as their fur would be at the fullest.

This is a good time to witness the phenomena of “Moon pillars.” I have never seen Moon pillars which are an optical phenomena that is most likely to occur when the moon is low to the horizon, the air is cold, and ice crystals are angled in a position in the atmosphere where there is direct light in a straight column directly above or below the moon.

A light pillar is created by the reflection of light from ice crystals with near horizontal parallel planar surfaces. The light can come from the Sun (usually at or low to the horizon) in which case the phenomenon is called a sun pillar or solar pillar. It can also appear to come from the Moon or even from terrestrial sources such as streetlights.

There are billions of micro-sized ice crystals in clouds (even in warmer weather) or in minute snow crystals, and as these column-shaped ice crystals drift earthward, they tip and tilt. There are “upper pillars” that are formed when light is reflected downward toward our eyes and “lower pillars” when light is reflected upward from the topmost crystal faces.

I have read that the best time to see them is at sunset when a storm front is approaching (there might be a veil of cirrus clouds in the west). If those crystals happen to be nearly perfectly horizontal, a narrow column is the result. If they are tilted at various angles to the horizontal, then a the pillar of light spreads into what might look more like broad feathers to the Moon’s sides.

light pillars

“Light pillars over Laramie Wyoming in winter night” by Christoph Geisler / Wikimedia Commons

fall moon

I do spend a lot of time looking up at the sky, especially at night, though I’m no amateur astronomer and gave away my telescope years ago. I prefer naked eye observations and just knowing the science that other things are happening in the heavens even if I can’t observe them.  That must connect me in some ways with the ancients who did the same thing and paid much better attention to the natural world around them.

Tonight’s moon (December 6/7) is classified as a northern lunistice or, the name I prefer, a northern standstill.  (The term lunistice is listed in my dictionary as “obsolete” and defined as the farthest point of the moon’s northing and southing in its monthly revolution. It comes from Latin luna “moon” and sistere “to cause to stand” which is similar to solstice (sun + stand).

Tonight the Moon travels farthest north of the celestial equator. It’s not a rare event. It’s a monthly event. If we were talking about the Sun, that reaches its northernmost point in our view once a year. We call that June event a solstice. Tonight’s monthly event is similar to a solstice in that the moon is northernmost. Take a look tonight if you can (clouds and rain in Paradelle) and see if you notice anything different.

More details

two-moons-hoax

This faked photo often appears online with the story that Mars will appear as big and bright as a full moon on August 27.

Right off, let’s say that Mars will NOT be approaching Earth this week at some extraordinary closeness.  I think this must be an offshoot of the “supermoon” phenomena.

This hoax or just misinformation has been bouncing around the Net since the days when these kinds of memes were passed via emails. Here’s what you might see posted online on Facebook or other networks

On August 27 lift up your eyes and look up at the night sky because the planet Mars will pass just 34.65 million miles from the earth. To the naked eye it will look like two moons. The next time Mars will be so close to the Earth is in 2287. No one living on this earth has ever seen this and no one living now will ever see it again!

The closes we have to there being any truth to this goes back to August 27, 2003.  Mars, the red planet, did come within 35 million miles (or 56 million kilometers) of Earth and that was its nearest approach to us in almost 60,000 years. I remember looking up that night. My view was obscured but Mars appeared approximately 6 times larger and 85 times brighter in the sky than it ordinarily does.

This what is known to astronomers as a perihelic opposition. It is a rare occurrence, but Mars comes almost as near to us every 15 to 17 years. Mars’ appearance in August 2003 wouldn’t have looked much bigger to the eye than on its other close appearances.

If you want to mark your calendar for 2018 (I’ll queue up the blog post now), our view of Mars will be similar to the 2003.

But it won’t be until the year 2287 that Mars will come closer to Earth than it did back in 2003.

So is anything interesting happening this week in the sky?  EarthSky reports that first of all the moon will not be full on August 27, 2014 but just a thin crescent in the west after sunset. Mars will also not be at its brightest or its closest at all in 2014.

It’s still a good idea to look up in the sky at night and enjoy the Moon, the stars and the planets.

Mars_Hubble1

Mars will never appear as large as a full moon in Earth’s sky. But if it did, it might look like this NASA photo taken of it from the Hubble Space Telescope.

 

 

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