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Hunger Moon and an Asteroid Close Encounter January 26, 2013

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Another Full Moon post contribution from Gordon… Thanks Gordon! You are kind of keeping this blog on life support.

The Next Full Moon is on Saturday evening, January 26, 2013.  The Moon will be “opposite” the Sun a little before midnight Saturday evening, at 11:38 pm EST.  In UTC or GMT, this corresponds to 4:38 on Sunday morning, January 27, 2013, so most commercially-produced calendars show this full Moon on Sunday.

The Moon will appear full for about 3 days around this time, from Friday evening through Monday morning (making this a full Moon weekend).  As usual, the wearing of suitably celebratory and celestial attire is encouraged in honor of the full Moon.

Although it may not seem like it this year (for the US east coast, at least), this is the Snow Moon or the Hunger Moon.  Full Moon names come from the Native American tribes of what is now the northern and eastern United States.  The second full Moon of Winter (usually in February) was known as the Snow Moon because of the heavy snows that fall in this season.  Bad weather and heavy snows made hunting difficult, so this Moon was also called the Hunger Moon.

Some tie the names of the Moons to the month they occur in rather than their seasonal order (even though the Native Americans who gave us these names would not have know about our calendar before Europeans arrived).

Because this Moon is in January, many give this Moon the name of last month’s Moon, calling it the Wolf Moon.

In the Hebrew or Jewish calendar the months start with the new Moon and the days start and end with sunset.  The holiday Tu B’Shevat, also known as the New Year for Trees, starts at sundown on January 25 and ends at sundown on January 26, 2013.  Tu B’Shevat means the 15th day of the month of Shevat, and most of the time the 15th day of a lunar month falls on the day of the full Moon (and always close enough that the Moon appears full).

This is the time of year when (for the northern hemisphere, at least) the evening sky is full of bright stars.  Our Sun is on the inner edge of one of the spiral arms of our galaxy, and as we look up in the evenings we are looking away from the center of the galaxy but towards the densely packed stars of this spiral arm.  After sunset this band of bright stars sweeps across our sky from the southeast to the northwest.  The bright planet Jupiter also is appearing in the evening sky.  Jupiter was at its brightest and closest to the Earth for this cycle back in early December 2012, and over the coming months will appear to be growing fainter as its distance from the Earth increases.  Taking over for Jupiter the bright planet Saturn will appear to increase in brightness as it draws closer to Earth, with Saturn’s closest approach to Earth occurring in late April, 2013.  For the Washington, DC area, on the day of the January full Moon, Saturn will rise at around 1 am EST, by the time of the February full Moon Saturn will be rising at about 11 pm EST).

As to specific celestial events between now and the full Moon after next:

* As mentioned above, the full Moon will be on Saturday, January 26, 2013.

* on Sunday morning, February 3, 2013, the waning half Moon and the bright planet Saturn will appear within about 4 degrees of each other.

For the Washington, DC area, Saturn will rise at at 12:32 am EST and the Moon will rise about five minutes later, at 12:37 am EST, both in the east-southeast.  They will be at their highest in the sky just before 6 am EST (5:52 am for Saturn and 5:55 am for the Moon), about 15 minutes before the sky begins brightening with dawn.

* Later on Sunday, February 3, 2013, will be the Moon’s last quarter.

* The new Moon will be on Sunday, February 10, 2013.

* On Friday evening, February 15, 2013, the asteroid 2012 DA14 will pass about 27,700 km (17,200 miles) from the surface of our planet, closer to the Earth than our geostationary satellites.  According to the data on NASA’s Near Earth Object Program website at URL http://neo.jpl.nasa.gov/ca/ this asteroid has a diameter somewhere between 36 and 80 meters (120 to 260 feet) and will pass about 27,700 km (17,200 miles) from the surface of the Earth.

* Saturday, February 16, 2013, Mercury at greatest elongation (greatest angular separation from the Sun as seen from Earth), visible just after sunset.  To see Mercury you will need a clear view of the horizon halfway between west and west-southwest.  By the time the sky darkens and twilight ends (around 6:45 pm EST for the Washington, DC area), Mercury will be only about 5 or 6 degrees above the horizon and only about 1/2 hour from setting itself (setting at 7:18 pm EST for the Washington, DC area).

* On Sunday afternoon, February 17, 2013, the waxing half Moon will reach its first quarter.

* That evening, Sunday, February 17, 2013, The waxing half Moon, the close cluster of stars known as M24 or the Pleiades, and the bright planet Jupiter will form a triangle, all separated by about 6 degrees.  As the night progresses, the Moon will appear to shift closer to Jupiter.  For the Washington, DC area, at least, the Moon will set in the west-northwest around 1:30 am EST on Monday morning, February 18, 2013, and Jupiter will set about 20 minutes later.

* By Monday evening, February 18, 2013, the waxing gibbous Moon will shift to appear about 7 degrees to the other side of Jupiter, with the bright star Aldebaran below and about half-way between. As the evening progresses Jupiter and the Moon will appear to drift farther apart, with Jupiter (and Aldebaran) setting Tuesday morning, February 19, 2013, in the west-northwest around 1:45 am EST, and the Moon setting 35 minutes later.

* The full Moon after next will be on Monday, February 25, 2013.

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Frost Moon November 28, 2012

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Been a while and a little late (both my fault), but here is another installment of Gordon’s monthly full moon email ( Thanks again Gordon!).  This is also my first tablet posting, so we shall see how that works out… Enjoy!

The next full Moon is on Wednesday, November 28, 2012. The Moon will be “opposite” the Sun at 9:46 am EST on Wednesday morning. In fact, the Moon will be so “opposite” the Sun from the Earth that it will pass through the partial shadow of the Earth (called a penumbral eclipse). From the Washington, DC area we will not be able to see this eclipse, as the Moon will be below the horizon. Farther west in North America, the eclipse will start before moonset, but the partial shadow of the Earth causes a gradual shading of the Moon difficult for the eye to detect. If you are in the western pacific, Australia, or eastern Asia, you may see the Moon slightly darkened and reddened by the shadow of the Earth, as the peak of the eclipse will be straight overhead in the Pacific about halfway between Japan and the island of New Guinea.

The Moon will appear full for about 3 days around the peak of the full Moon and the eclipse, from Monday evening, November 26, 2012, through Thursday morning (possibly even Thursday evening), November 29, 2012. Suitably celebratory celestial attire is encouraged in honor of the full Moon.

As the last full Moon of Fall, this full Moon is sometimes known as the Moon Before Yule or the Frost Moon. Europeans call this full Moon the “Moon before Yule” (Yule is an old northern European winter festival that is now associated with Christmas). A Native American name for this full Moon (as reported in the Farmer’s Almanac) is the Frost Moon, as frosts begin to occur towards the end of Fall.

This is also Kartic Poornima. According to Wikipedia: “Kartik Poornima (Kartik purnima) is a Hindu holy day celebrated on the full moon day or the fifteenth lunar day of Kartik (November–December). It is also known as Tripuri poornima and Tripurari Poornima. It is sometimes called Deva-Diwali or Deva-Deepawali – the festival of lights of the gods. The Kartik Purnima festival also coincides with the Sikh festival of Guru Nanak Jayanti.”

As for other celestial events between now and the full Moon after next…

* On Thursday, November 29, 2012, the planet Jupiter is quite bright and drawing close to being “opposite” the Sun. Look for the full Moon and Jupiter near each other, rising in the east at sunset and riding high in the sky as the night progresses. The bright star Alderbaran will be nearby as well.

* For the Washington, DC area, Friday, November 30, 2012 through Thursday, December 13, 2012 will be he earliest sunsets (i.e., darkest evenings) of the year. Rounded to the nearest minute, sunset will be at 4:46 pm EST across these dates.

* Saturday, December 1, 2012, is when Venus is at its greatest western elongation (greatest angle away from the Sun as seen in the morning, or the highest it gets in the predawn sky).

* Sunday, December 2, 2012, is when Jupiter is in “opposition,” effectively opposite the Sun as seen from Earth, the equivalent of a “full” Jupiter when the planet is closest to the Earth and rises around sunset, is highest in the night sky at midnight, and sets around sunrise. This is a good time to get out a telescope or a good pair of binoculars and watch Jupiter’s four large moons as they move around in their orbits. One of the earliest reasonably accurate estimates of the speed of light came from observing these moons. Navigators needed accurate clocks to calculate longitude, and tried using predictions of the positions of the moons of Jupiter to reset their clocks. But they found their predictions did not match their observations until they put in a corrections for the the time it took for light to get from the Jupiter to the Earth as the distance changed throughout the year.

* Tuesday, December 4, 2012, is when Mercury is at its greatest western elongation (greatest angle away from the Sun as seen in the morning, or the highest it gets in the predawn sky). Look for Mercury in the east-southeast about an hour before sunrise (about 6:10 am EST in the Washington, DC area). Venus will be the bright planet, look for Mercury about 7 degrees to the lower left of Venus (about halfway between the horizon and Venus at about an hour before sunrise). Saturn will be about 9 degrees to the upper right of Venus, and the bright star Spica even higher to the upper right.

* Thursday, December 6, 2012, is when the waning Moon is in its last quarter.

* In the morning on Sunday, December 9, 2012, look towards the southeast to see the waning crescent Moon near the bright star Spica. In a line to the lower left will appear Saturn, Venus, and then Mercury.

* By Monday morning, December 10, 2012, the waning crescent Moon will have shifted to be about 5 degrees to the lower right of Saturn.

* By Tuesday morning, December 11, 2012, the waning crescent Moon will have shifted to be about 3 degrees to the right of Venus, with Mercury to the lower left.

* On Wednesday, December 12, 2012, Jupiter will appear nearest the bright star Aldebaran (less than 5 degrees, apart). They will appear close to each other for several weeks around this time.

* Thursday, December 13, 2012, is the new Moon.

* Early in the morning on Friday, December 14, 2012, is the peak of the Geminid meteor shower, generally one of the two big meteor showers of the year. The peak is expected to be between 1 and 3 am EST, but increased meteor activity should be visible after about 10 pm for several nights around the peak. Near the peak, if the sky is clear and you are far away from city lights, you are likely to see about 50 meteors per hour (possibly more, as there is some indication that the intensity of this shower has been increasing in the last few years). The Geminids get their name from Gemini, as they appear to radiate out from this constellation. With the new Moon the night before, there will be no interference from moonlight, so this is a good opportunity to view this meteor shower. The Geminids are relatively slow moving as they hit the Earth and appear to be one of only two annual meteor showers associated with asteroids rather than comets. The Geminids appear to be dust associated with the asteroid 3200 Phaethon, which has an eccentric 1.4 year-long orbit that takes it out as far as the main asteroid belt and much closer to the Sun than Mercury. The problem is that it is hard to explain where all the dust that causes these meteors has come from. This asteroid probably has shot out gas and dust when it was close to the Sun in past orbits and may be an object in between an asteroid and a comet.

* Wednesday night/Thursday morning, at 12:19 am on December 20, 2012, is the first quarter or waxing half Moon.

* Friday, December 21, 2012, at about 6:12 am EST, is the winter solstice. The solstice is considered the start of winter in the northern hemisphere. Many people call the winter solstice the “shortest day of the year.” Although it is the day with the shortest daylight of the year, in terms of the time from solar noon to solar noon, the days on and just after the northern hemisphere winter solstice are the longest days of the year. I can send you and explanation of this if you are interested (I wrote them up a few years ago and don’t want to repeat myself too much, as this would be pedantic, repetitive, redundant, repetitious, and overdoing things a bit). The winter solstice has the shortest period daylight of the year but has neither the latest sunrise nor the earliest sunset. For the Washington, DC area at least, the earliest sunsets occur in early December, and the latest sunrises occurred even earlier, just before the change from Eastern Daylight to Standard Time.

* Early on Saturday morning, December 22, 2012, is the expected peak of the Ursid meteor shower. Although the Ursids can sometimes produce as many as 100 meteors per hour, most years you can only see 5 to 10 meteors per hour. The Ursids get their name because they appear to radiate out from near the bowl of the Little Dipper (the constellation Ursa Minor, which translates as the Little Bear). Because these meteors appear to radiate from high in the northern sky, this is one of the few meteor showers where you don’t have to wait until after midnight to see them. The Ursids are made up of dust left by the comet 8P/Tuttle.

* Sunday morning, December 23, 2012, about a hour before sunrise (about 6:20 am EST in the Washington, DC area), if you scan the southeast horizon with binoculars you may be to see Venus, and about 6 degrees to the lower right of Venus the bright, reddish colored star Antares.

* Tuesday, December 25, 2012 (Christmas Day), the waxing gibbous Moon will appear within about 1 degree of the bright planet Jupiter.

* The full Moon after next is on Friday, December 28, 2012.

Thunder Moon July 13, 2011

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Another lunar contribution from Gordon, whose contributions are currently keeping this blog alive…

The next full Moon is on Friday morning, July 15, 2010, at 2:39 am EDT.  The Moon will appear full for about 3 days around this time, from Wednesday evening through Saturday morning.

This full Moon has many names:

  • For Hindus this is the Guru Full Moon (Guru Purnima) and is celebrated as a time for clearing the mind and honoring the guru or spiritual master.
  • Europeans called July’s full Moon the Hay Moon or the Mead Moon.
  • The Algonquin tribes in what is now the Eastern US called July’s full Moon the Buck Moon, as July is normally the month when the new antlers of buck deer push out of their foreheads in coatings of velvety fur.  They also called this the Thunder Moon because of July’s frequent thunderstorms.

Since this is the Thunder Moon, a quick note on lightning safety.  Most of the lighting that strikes the ground arcs from the negatively charged bottom of the storm to the ground underneath the storm.  Much more rare is positive lightning, which arcs from the top of a thunderstorm to strike the ground up to eight miles away from the storm.  Positive lightning sometimes strikes areas where the sky is mostly clear (hence the term “bolt out of the blue”).

Because it arcs across a greater distance it tends to be 5 to 10 times more powerful that regular ground strikes.  Though positive lightning is rare (less than
5% of all lightning strikes), the lack of warning combined with its greater power tends to make it more dangerous.  A good rule to follow is if you can hear the thunder, you can be struck by the lightning.  As a bicycle commuter I am well aware that the inch or so of rubber tire between my metal bicycle and the ground will make little difference to a bolt that can arc across miles of air from the top of a thunderstorm to the ground.

Be safe!

As to other sky events between now and the full Moon in August:

  • Mercury joins Saturn in the evening sky after sunset.  Try looking to the west-northwest near the horizon about 45 minutes after sunset (about 9:15 pm EDT for the Washington, DC area).  Mercury reaches its greatest elongation (largest angle away from the Sun as seen from the Earth) on Wednesday, July 20, 2011.
  • If you are in a dark location with a clear sky on July 31, or August 1, 2011, try looking for the Capricornid Meteor shower.  Although this shower only produces 10 to 15 meteors per hour (i.e., on average one every 5 or 6 minutes), some of them can be bright fireballs.  The best time to look is after midnight.
  • If you have a good telescope, on Thursday, August 11, 2011, Neptune will be at opposition, fully lit and at its closest to the Earth for this year.

The full Moon after next will be on Saturday, August 13, 2011.

As usual, celebratory attire (e.g., Aloha shirts, bow ties, etc.) is encouraged in honor of the full Moon, watch out for lightning, and consider setting aside a little time to clear the mind.

Strawberry Moon June 16, 2011

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Another monthly lunar update from my friend and co-worker Gordon:

The next full Moon is on Wednesday afternoon, June 15, 2011.  The Moon will appear full for about 3 days centered on 4:14 pm EDT on Wednesday (i.e., from Tuesday morning through Friday morning).  

This full Moon is known as the Strawberry Moon, a name universal to just about every Algonquin tribe.  The name comes from the relatively short season in June for harvesting strawberries in northeastern North America.  

Europeans call the June full Moon the Rose Moon. Because the orbit of the Moon around the Earth is almost in the same plane as the orbit of the Earth around the Sun (only about 5 degrees off), near the summer solstice when the Sun appears highest in the sky at noon, the full Moon will always appear lowest in the sky at midnight.  Some believe the name Rose Moon comes from the color the Moon can get because, particularly for European nations at the higher latitudes, the full Moon is low in the sky and shining through more atmosphere that at other times of the year.  

More recently, a new tribe has arisen, geographically scattered but mostly living in the mid-Atlantic region of the United States.  This tribe’s language is primarily English, but with a liberal smattering of acronyms and Hawaiian phrases.  Comprised of people from all backgrounds, this tribe sports a pirate flag as its emblem and is devoted to the study of the Moon.  This tribe calls June’s full Moon the LRO Moon, in honor of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft they placed in orbit around the Moon two years ago, on June 23, 2009.  

There is a total eclipse of the Moon associated with this full Moon, but this eclipse will not be visible from North America.  LRO, currently orbiting the Moon, relies on sunlight to keep warm and solar power to operate.  This will be the longest eclipse that LRO will encounter in its expected life.  LRO will have to preheat most of its systems, put an extra charge on the batteries, and leave most of the science instruments off in order to get through this long eclipse without getting too cold or running low on power.  Only the Diviner Lunar Radiometer Experiment will remain on, and we expect to get unique information about the surface of the Moon from watching how key locations cool down as the Earth blocks the Sun.  

As usual, the suitable celebratory activities and attire (e.g., Hawaiian shirts, bow ties) are encouraged in honor of the full Moon.

As to other celestial events between now and the next full Moon:

The night of the full Moon is also the peak of the June Lyrids, a relatively minor and variable meteor shower.  With the full Moon in the sky it will be difficult to see these meteors (if there are many of them this year).  

Tuesday, June 21, 2011, is the summer solstice, the day with the longest period of sunlight and the astronomical start of summer.  Because the solar days this time of year are slightly longer than 24 hours, the earliest sunrises occur before the Solstice and the latest sunsets occur after the solstice.  For NASA Headquarters, rounded off to the minute, the earliest time of sunrise is 5:42 am EDT from this past Tuesday, June 7, 2011, through the morning of the Solstice, Tuesday, June 21, 2011.  Rounded off to the minute, the latest time of sunset will be 8:37 pm EDT from Thursday, June 23, 2011 to Sunday, July 3, 2011.  

Back in late May, Mercury, Venus, Mars, and Jupiter all appeared clustered together in the morning sky, while Saturn was up pretty much all night.  By late June and early July, Saturn is gradually shifting more towards the evening sky, Jupiter and Mars are appearing higher in the morning sky, Venus is low in the morning sky and soon will pretty much disappear from view in glow of the Sun, and Mercury will switch to low in the evening sky.  

In the morning of Sunday, June 26, 2011, the waning crescent Moon will appear to the upper left of bright Jupiter in the eastern sky.   For the Washington, DC area, Jupiter rises around 2:20 am.

Before dawn on Tuesday, June 28, 2011, the waning crescent Moon will appear to the upper right of Mars low in east-northeast.  For the Washington, DC area, Mars rises around 3:45 am.

The next day, in the glow of dawn on Wednesday, June 29, 2011, the even thinner waning crescent Moon will appear to the upper right of bright Venus (about halfway between Venus and Mars) very low in east-northeast.  For the Washington, DC area, Venus rises around 4:50 am, less than an hour before sunrise.

Even harder to see in the glow just before dawn, on Thursday, June 30, 2011, the Moon will be just to the lower left of bright Venus, very close to the horizon in the east-northeast.

Friday, July 1, 2011, is the new Moon and a partial solar eclipse.  For this eclipse the shadow of the Moon almost misses the Earth.  The eclipse will only be visible from a part of the Antarctic Ocean south of Africa.  It may be an eclipse that nobody sees.  

On Saturday, July 2, 2011, especially with a pair of binoculars, you may be able to see Mercury to the upper right of the faint crescent Moon.  You would need to look close to the horizon in the north-northwest about 1/2-hour after sunset (around 9:10 pm EDT in the Washington, DC area, as the Moon will set by about 9:30 pm).  The glow of sunset will likely make this difficult to see without binoculars.  

On Monday, July 4, 2011, at about 11 am EDT, the Earth will be aphelion, the point in its orbit where it is farthest from the Sun.  In general, the seasons in the Northern Hemisphere are milder than they are in the Southern hemisphere, because northern summer occurs when the Earth is farther from the Sun, while northern winter occurs when the Earth is closer to the Sun.  

In the evening on Thursday, July 7, 2011, the waxing quarter Moon will appear to the lower left of Saturn.  For the Washington, DC area, this pair will start the evening high in the sky and set a little after midnight.  

The full Moon after next will be on Friday, July 15, 2011.  

Flower Moon May 14, 2011

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I have a co-worker in the Science Mission Directorate at NASA who each month puts out an email alerting me and some of our colleages of the upcoming full moon and other upcoming astronomical events of interest.  I have been meaning to share these with you for a while.  So thanks to Gordon….

The next full Moon will be on Tuesday morning, May 17, 2011 at 7:09 am EDT.  The Moon will appear full for about 3 days around this time, from Sunday evening through Wednesday morning (possibly through the start of Wednesday evening).  As usual, condign and copacetic celebratory celestial costuming is suggested in support of our sated Selene.  

This is the Flower Moon, as in most areas flowers are abundant this time of year.  Other names include the Corn Planting Moon or the Milk Moon.  

As to other sky events between now and the full Moon in June:

Saturn is bright in the evening sky.  On Saturday, May 14, 2011, Saturn will appear 8 degrees north of the nearly full Moon.  

Later in May in the pre-dawn sky, Mercury, Venus and Mars will appear clustered together, with Jupiter nearby and the crescent Moon joining the cluster by the end of the Month.  You will have to look towards the east, with a clear view of the horizon.  Mercury will be the lowest in the sky.  
 – On Wednesday morning, May 18, 2011, Mercury and Venus will appear at their closest.  
 – On Sunday, May 29, 2011, the crescent Moon will appear above Jupiter.  
 – By Monday, May 30, 2011, the crescent Moon will have moved near Mars  
 – By Tuesday, May 31, 2011, the crescent Moon will appear above Mercury
My understanding is that this is the most compact gathering of bright planets in decades.  Uranus and Neptune are also in the pre-dawn sky, but they cannot be seen without a telescope.  

Wednesday, June 1, 2011, is the New Moon and a partial eclipse of the Sun (not visible in the Washington, DC area).  

The full Moon after next will be on Wednesday, June 15, 2011.  This will also be a total eclipse of the Moon (not visible from the Washington, DC area).