Archive for the ‘Moon’ Category

Moonstruck   Leave a comment

MoonDaguerreotype

The Moon, as photographed by Louis Daguerre, 1839

I’m not kidding when I say I’ve been moonstruck since childhood. That’s when my parents dragged me out of bed on one sultry July evening. Mom opened the bedroom door, shook me and said, “Wake up! You have to see this!” Grumpily, I dragged my sleepy self down the hall and into the living room, where my parents, grandparents, sister and brother sat, glued to the TV. My seven-year-old self stared at the screen, impatient. After a few moments, Neil Armstrong hopped out of the LM and into history, followed shortly thereafter by Buzz Aldrin.

The whole concept seemed so wild to me. That giant Saturn rocket shooting them into space. Three men jammed into what seemed not much larger than a Volkswagen Beetle. Being able to see and hear them from an ever increasing distance. And then, the landing. Walter Cronkite’s gushing on air wasn’t much different from everyone in my house. Or the world, for that matter.

I didn’t really think about all the technology, or the training, or the money, or even the space race that evening. Other NASA missions came and went, and my family followed them all. But somehow, this one stood out from the rest. Three guys achieved something no one else has ever done then and since (although that will change shortly).

All I knew was that I wanted to be an astronaut. Desperately.

As the years went by, I shifted my interests to astronomy and learning the constellations, and the shifting planets in the nighttime sky, plus the occasional comet and meteor showers. I never did well in math, so I gave up my dream of becoming an astronomer. But my love for the offworld never faded, and I kept my sweet spot for the moon.

There’s nothing more entrancing than watching the glow of a full moon on a white blanket of snow, as the whitened trees glisten from its brightness. Or how a summer night feels so romantic with the moon sailing over the ocean. How welcoming the moon can be when it peeps out from a clearing sky, or transform into a mysterious red when it eclipses. Or blots out the sun and turns black.

Lots of sci-fi novels and movies use the moon as a backdrop or a plot device. It has religious significance for many. One can be mooned, have a moonface, or eat a moon pie, or wear a moonstone. Or be like Cher and Nicholas Cage and be moonstruck.

If you’re lucky and under the right conditions, you can catch the new moon in the old moon’s arms, or the old moon’s arm around the new moon. That means right before and after a new moon, there’s a thin ribbon of light, the slenderest of crescents, holding the dark side. Through a telescope or good binoculars, you can make out some details of the dark side too. This phase doesn’t last long, as it’s right before sunrise or just after sunset, and the moon is very close to the sun in the sky and very near the horizon.

If you catch it just at the right time, you can see an occultation, or the moon appearing to hide a star or planet. It’s literally now you see it, now you don’t. The moon slides in front of a celestial body, for a matter of minutes or hours. Then the celestial body magically reappears. It’s fascinating to watch.

During daylight, a moonrise might seem as if it’s almost see-through and blue. Spotting a full moon rising from a mountaintop is downright spectacular. You’ll never see something so big in your entire life. Or catching it rising over the ocean – the glow on the horizon, then a tiny, shy peep, as it creeps higher into the sky, a ribbon of light shimmering over the ocean’s surface, until, for a moment, the entire orb appears to be balancing on the horizon itself. Way cool!

I’ve already spent much of last and this week reliving the moon landing and the entire NASA early space mission by watching programs on PBS, or reading articles, or posts on my Twitter feed. I still marvel at this accomplishment.

But most importantly, I remember how unifying this singular moment was for our planet. How we all came together to marvel at such an achievement. It was an accomplished started out of competition and ended in peace. We need, not only as a nation, but as ambassadors of this legacy, to remember what good can come of scientific achievements, and to put aside all that makes us angry and frustrated, in order to move forward to use our discoveries to better the fates of all humankind.

 

September in Space   Leave a comment

September’s usually a loaded month, for all sorts of reasons. Kids head back to school, there’s a big holiday capping off the traditional summer holiday, all the zucchini’s either ripened at once and your neighbors run from you as you clutch your harvest, chasing them, and we turn the season from boiling to pleasant.

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There’s all sorts of things going on above our heads as well. We started off the month with a solar eclipse today, in Africa. That means in two weeks, we’re going to see a lunar eclipse on September 16.  Solar and lunar eclipses always appear in pairs, about two weeks apart. This time, the penumbral lunar eclipse will be visible throughout all of Europe, Asia, Australia, but not North and South America, except for the easternmost part of Brazil.

 

scorpio

If you know your constellations, Scorpio is crawling back down southwest to get away for the winter. It’s taking with it a colorful trio of two planets, a star and one moon…but just for a day or two. Around the second week of September, you’ll see Antares, a big red star located in the upper portion of the constellation, Saturn to the upper right and Mars to the upper left. The moon on the half-shell will add its glow to the grouping.

summer-triangle

September’s a fine month to spot the so-called Summer Triangle, a trio of constellations (The Swan, The Eagle and The Lyre) forming a jewel of a triangle consisting of two first magnitude stars and one zero magnitude: Vega (0.14 mag) in The Lyre, Altair (0.89 mag) in The Eagle and Deneb (1.33 mag). With luck, you can see this grouping almost all year round, but the best time for it is during the summer, when it’s nearly overhead in the Milky Way. Vega is especially close to Polaris, the North Star, and only goes below the horizon at latitudes 40 degrees for a handful of hours. The further north you go, the longer you can see it.

On Thursday, September 22, 2016 at 14:21 UTC, autumn officially begins in the northern hemisphere. That’s when you start thinking about how fast that summer went past, you still didn’t get to the beach, but that’s okay, because you can’t get into your bathing suit anyway. So why don’t you do yourself a favor? Toss on a sweater, take a chair and have a seat, looking up at the greatest gift we all have at our disposal: the heavens.

Almost, But Not Quite   Leave a comment

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How many of you look forward to gazing at the moon and witnessing one of Nature’s Greatest Wonders, such as the lunar eclipse pictured above? They happen twice a year, about two weeks apart from a solar eclipse. It’s the dance the moon and the sun do, shading the earth in a few places, and giving us a fabulous show.

But on August 18, something odd’s going to happen. The Sun, Moon and Earth will be closely aligned that day, but their shadows will not meet. It’s as if they’re all flirting with each other, yet don’t quite know whom to choose. So they hold off a bit.

Then, one month later, the Moon gets its chance with a Penumbral eclipse (also, not quite total, but almost), crossing two dates, on September 16 & 17. But here’s the thing with a Penumbral eclipse: you might not notice anything. In fact, most people see a normal full moon. A keen eye will notice it’s a bit darker, but only just. See, this kind of eclipse happens when the Moon passes through the faint part of the Earth’s outer shadow. The Sun, Moon and Earth are imperfectly aligned, so they can’t do what naturally should come to them – an eclipse – so they go through the motions and orbit away.

Sandwiched between those two almost lunar events is an Annular solar eclipse on September 1. That, too, is an almost-but-not-quite event, with the Moon standing a hair’s breadth too far from the Sun to block its light entirely, but enough to cast a pretty decent shadow and darkening things in its path. It’s kind of like going to the movies and someone with an enormous head sits directly in front of you. You can’t really make out the whole film, but at the screen’s edges you see a tidbit of the action. What a viewer will see is a “ring of fire” around the edges of the moon. The sky does darken and if you glance at the sun (eyes protected with a filter!), it’ll look pretty darn cool.

So look out, folks! Or you might miss something…

Posted August 6, 2016 by seleneymoon in Eclipses, Moon, Nature, The Sun

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All Things Being Equal   Leave a comment

Autumn Picture

 

Autumn, fall, change of the seasons, whatever you call it, occurs in the northern hemisphere on September 23 at 8:20 UTC.  It’s a time when things start winding down in gardens, the kids are probably already back in school and you’re looking at your heating bill with a bit of trepidation, knowing that winter’s beating a steady path to your door.

But let’s stick with autumn for now.

Autumn occurs when the sun hits a point in the sky called the autumnal equinox, or here:

Virgo

Credit:  H.A. Rey, “The Stars”

It’s the little “V” you see underneath Virgo’s head, as if she fell down and tripped on the ecliptic (the path in the sky where the sun, moon and stars “travel” along the zodiac).  The sun hits this spot on or about 21 September each year, but as noted above, this year it falls on the 23 September.  But if you look in the newspaper or even on many weather web sites, you’ll notice that the times of sunrise and sunset are anything but equal.  It’s close, but not exactly 12 hours of day and dark.  A lot of that depends upon your latitude.  The further south you go, that date creeps into October.

Here’s a handy chart to show sunrise and sunset times for New York  You’ll see day and night aren’t equal until September 26.  Why?  You’ll find an explanation here.

This National Geographic video explains not only the autumnal equinox, but also nifty cultural practices that go along with it.

(You might want to watch it before Rupert Murdoch gets ahold of it and turns it into an exploitive clip about the sun ripping off the nighttime sky by getting dark earlier and earlier).

Perhaps it’s a good time to sit and read a sci-fi novel about autumn.  Why not try “Autumn in Carthage”? or “Runes of Autumn? Or learn the meaning behind The Pillar of Autumn in Halo, a video game.

Want to hear the definitive theme song of autumn?  Here’s a short, catchy tune by the band Screeching Weasel called  “First Day of Autumn”:

Most important of all, nighttime sky watches CAN’T MISS the total eclipse of the moon!  It takes place on September 27/28, 2015.  Click here for details to look out for it in your neck of the woods.  In New York, it actually begins at a decent time, starting at 8:11 pm, with the full eclipse occurring at 10:11 and lasting until 10:47.  If you haven’t seen a total lunar eclipse, it’s worth watching.  It’s a slow process, but you’ll have time to truly enjoy it.  Don’t take your eyes off of it between 9:50 and 10:15 – watching the moon turn red is the coolest thing ever.  Break out your binoculars!

Have a great fall and see you next trip!

 

Tips from Nature   Leave a comment

eclipse_80

Credit: NASA

There’s a whole lot going on in nature this week.  Take, for example, the March 20th total eclipse.  It’s the first total for a couple of years.  The others have been annular, or the kind where the moon doesn’t quite hide the sun and it peeks out like a ring.  And in case you didn’t know, eclipses come in pairs, two weeks apart: the sun hides its face, then the moon.  It’s just the way nature works.  Not everyone gets to see this spectacular event; those in the northern extremes of Europe (and polar regions) will see it just fine, but the rest of Europe will have to settle for a partial eclipse.  That’s fine by me, something is better than nothing.

Eclipses are weird.  I experienced a total eclipse when I was about 7 or 8 years old.  It was covered live on TV, when people still held wonderment and what nature could do.  I clearly remember it got dark, a fairly good representation of the stars came out, birds went silent and all became still.  Mom admonished me for looking up at the sky, yet both of us snuck a peek and I remember getting a chill.  It was so, so strange to see this blackness where the sun ought to be.  Lots of our neighbors came outside and pointed and laughed nervously.  We all knew better.  We knew that the sun’d pop back out again and the warmth would return, birds would wake up, a bit confused at the short night, perhaps, but ready to launch into song once more.  And sure enough, it did.  Everyone retreated to the inside of their houses, catching the few last bits of the broadcast describing the marvel we all experienced.

So what if the sun got stuck, though, behind the moon?  Suppose, just for an hour or two, the sun had had enough of working to warm the planet.  The moon, normally a celestial object waiting to dominate the evening sky, chose not to budge, either.  Let’s say they went to war.  A line was drawn in the sky, and neither of them were giving way until the other relented.  Imagine what people might say then?  Oh, they’d be all right with it for about the first five or ten minutes, but after that?  A nip in the air becomes a chill, then cold, then freeze.  Our balance turns wobbly, then a sickly feeling emerges from our insides.  Hair rises off of our heads as breezes end.  Building creak, water flows everywhere and electricity shorts out.  Planes can’t fly.  Our world ceases, but still exists.  The National Guard is called out, but is helpless against the force of nature.

Take that, Nature says, and keep on ruining the planet.  I’ll take care of matters for myself.  When all of you have had your fill of ignorance, I’ll imbue you with light.  Until then, may the best people evolve, while I clean house.

Ah, if only…

In the meantime, we’re still here, facing the Ides of March, Pi Day, and the inevitable East Coast first day of spring snowstorm from the relentless winter we’ve been experiencing.  Can’t wait to shovel that 3″ – 6″ in the driveway.

Lunar Properties – Yours for Cheap!   Leave a comment

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Credit: Lunar Embassy

This sort of thing has been going on for seemingly ever – real estate for sale that’s basically unobtainable – but it’s never stopped anyone from trying and believe it or not, it’s a profit-making enterprise.

Take, for example, LunarLand.com.  Since 1980, they’ve been selling offworld prospectors lunar property one acre at a time.  And why not?  Just about everyone, and I mean everyone, has endorsed them.  A quick trip to their website tells you that over 250 celebrities have snapped up lucrative tracts of land, perhaps one day to start a development bearing their name.

It’s not like it’s a great wad of dough you have to shell out, either.  For $29.95, you too can lay claim to a spot of your own, and it comes complete with all the documentation you’ll need.  So if some pesky astro-, cosmo- or taikonaut trudges through the breccia on your spot, you have every right to give them the boot or charge rent.

So how is this possible?  Well, in 1967 a treaty stated that governments can’t own lunar land, but there’s nothing to stop corporations and private individuals from doing so.  All property sales are registered with the US Office of Claims Registries, the same office that’s responsible for any land claims.  Any government in the world is free to challenge this, but so far, none has.

But is it realistic?  Can you really hop in your own rocket, blast off and set up housekeeping/shop in a barren world with little means to support yourself in any way, shape or form?

Ah, that challenge was faced by those intrepid souls who once trod the lands of this country back in time, not knowing what they’d find or if they’d survive the experience.  But somehow life carried on, the land was settled and people prospered.  Houses were built, highways grew and shopping malls sprang up like crocuses in spring.

So, what are you waiting for!  Grab your lunar acreage while the opportunity’s still fresh!

Unreal Estate   Leave a comment

Riccioli1651MoonMap

“Riccioli1651MoonMap” by G. B. Riccioli – Almagestum Novum

It used to be a common joke, once upon a time: selling a naive sucker the Brooklyn Bridge.  Same goes with swamp acreage.  But the moon?

Con artists throughout time dreamt up plots to sell lunar land as expansive as the graveyard along the Garden State Parkway.  Don’t worry about how you’re going to get there – you’ll figure it out! Where else can you get so much prime real estate?  Tell you what, it’s yours for the price of $100!

Well, there’s organizations selling star’s names to people willing to shell out money for no real reason except vanity – the National Star Registry, for example – but how real is that? Turns out, there’s interest in developing what the moon’s got to offer, and it could possibly be open to anyone with a way up and back.

Before that happens, though, there’s a few important details to consider, starting with the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 (also known as the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies).  Simply put, it says the moon belongs to no one in particular but to all humankind, no nation can put weapons of mass destruction upon it, and any nation that places a space object that lands upon it is responsible for any damages caused by said object.

This treaty was created well before the concept of private concerns launching their own scientific/lunar endeavors into space.  But we’re entering a new stage of space conceptualization now.  Private industry is poised to take over where nations once ruled.  Corporations such as SpaceX already contribute to NASA missions.  So what’s next?  The Moon Treaty of 1979 clearly states that no private entity can profit from the moon, and whatever is reaped from the moon must be for the benefit of all.  The United States, Russia and China, as well as many other nations, never signed it.  While there’s no underhanded endeavor to plunder the moon’s riches currently underhand, anyone’s a fool to think that isn’t going to happen as soon as it’s possible.

And really, what’s to stop individuals from going on up and taking what essentially is ungoverned land?  Think about it.  Throughout the history of the Earth, nations have taken over other nations, usurped the powers of other leaders, raped the resources and ruined cultures, all for the sake of greed and profit.  The entire side of the globe where I live (the United States) can thank its present existence to explorers from the other side of it, all in the name of seeing what’s there and what can be done with it.  Never mind that the land was already populated and doing well enough.

Truly, it’s only a matter of time before honest lunar endeavors turn into questionable ones.  In my mind, it’ll begin as an entirely cooperative gesture with clearly drawn lines.  But in the end, a small incident will lead to greater dissatisfaction, and it’ll only be a matter of time before hell will break loose.

In the meantime, enjoy the view.  It might change dramatically during our lifetimes, or those of our descendants.

 

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