By Peter Becker Managing Editor
Full Moon is on Sunday, June 24th. The sharing of this wonderful cosmic fact, prompts most people to offer a passing "that’s nice" and probably a look saying volumes such as "so what’s that have to do with the price of eggs in Egypt?"
Thankfully for some they still smile and mean it, interested to know what’s going on over their heads or imagining nice thoughts of a romantic full moon walk, or of the image of the "Man in the Moon" they hopefully learned from childhood.
I knew a man from Lake Como, Wayne County, PA, who actually put his name on the Moon. His name was Joe Funke and he worked as an engineer for NASA during the Apollo program. He worked on the Apollo 11 Lunar Module that took the first men to the lunar surface in 1969. Just before launch he managed to put a sticker bearing his signature on a rung of the ladder that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin would make their historic climb. When they returned to Earth, he asked Commander Armstrong if he had seen the sticker and he told Joe he did. True story. Joe and his wife Rose passed away in the last couple years.
Astronomically, the Full Moon occurs when it reaches the point in its orbit opposite the Sun from the Earth. The Moon then gets full illumination as seen from Earth; craters and mountains loose their shadows and the reflected brilliance paints our landscape like no street light or other manmade lamp can. Try turning them off or driving out to the country; pull over where it is safe for a moment and turn off the headlights- and see the wonder of the moonlight our forefathers relied upon and loved.
Every time you see the Full Moon in its brilliance, however, it is never 100 percent full! How can that be? If you look through a telescope at the very edge of the lunar orb, even at the very moment of Full Moon, notice there still is a slight shadowing of one side of the rugged limb. This is due to the fact the Moon’s orbit is tilted and falls out of line with the Earth and Sun. As is vividly seen during a lunar eclipse, the Earth casts a shadow into space; normally the Moon just misses this shadow. When it crosses through the very center of the shadow it is in direct line with the Earth and Sun and is a true Full Moon, but is then plunged into the darkness of the shadow!
If you watch from month to month with a telescope you will also note that the face of the "Man in the Moon" nods one way or another! This is noticeable again on the lunar limb with craters, plains or mountains being less or more foreshortened as they move into or falling away from view. This nodding occurs at different points around the circle of the limb. Known as "libration" (astronomers have a name for everything), this is caused by an unequal distribution of the Moon’s mass and its subsequent gravitational tugging by the Earth. An odd result is we see more than half of the Moon- with all its nods, we see a total of 59 percent!
The phrase "once in a blue Moon" meaning a rare occurrence, relates to a rare phenomenon that happens when two full moons occur in the same calendar month.
The Moon is full every 29 and a half days, so it’s possible to have two full moons in any month except February. On average, there is only one Blue Moon every 33 months. "Blue Moon" has also been defined as the third of four Full Moons in a season.
The Moon has been given many nicknames. Colonial Americans had the following names for each month: January- Winter Moon; February- Trapper’s Moon; March- Fish Moon; April- Planter’s Moon; May- Milk Moon; June- Rose Moon; July- Summer Moon; August- Dog Day’s Moon; September- Harvest Moon; October- Hunter’s Moon; November- Beaver Moon; December- Christmas Moon.
One could write a book about the Moon- in fact there area multitude- but in this column we can only share a few tidbits at a time. See your local public library or many good web sites for more information. "Keith’s Moon Page" at homehiwaay.net has a treasure of lunar facts and fancies. You can even calculate there, your weight on the Moon given its gravity is only a third of the Earth! That alone is wonder enough why we haven’t been back to the Moon since 1972!
Encourage your children and grandchildren to appreciate the world around them and the heavens above. Advise them to keep fit and study hard. Perhaps one of them will be the next to step onto the lunar soil!
Find Saturn in the south the next clear evening. It looks like a bright star, marking the bend in a big "L" with the bright white star Spica at right and bright orange-yellow Arcturus high up. Bright Venus may be seen low in the west in evening twilight.
The Moon reaches Last Quarter on June 30.
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Keep looking up!