Making an Effort to Look Up

Two friends and I went out tonight to try to get a look at the Perseid meteor shower.  I was hoping that it would provide blog-worthy astronomy descriptions, but we weren’t really in optimal conditions.

First of all, we didn’t really get away from the city lights.  There is a dark spot near my apartment complex, where the street and building lights are all at the edges of sight, but it turned out to still have too much light to really see much.  There were also clouds drifting through; not thick enough to totally mar the sky, but enough to make stargazing a challenge.  We also didn’t give it a lot of time – two of us needed to be in relatively early – so we weren’t outside for peak viewing.

We saw a few vague streaks, but nothing really remarkable.  Mostly it was a beautiful night for a stroll and good company.  We were rewarded with a movie-quality moon, though.

The moon was nearing half-full, with the typical vertical orientation seen in tattoos and children’s artwork.  It sat low to the horizon in the west, creating the illusion of size, and it still  reflected enough of the long-set sun to shine orange.  Thin clouds caught the glow, framing the crescent, with wisps drifting dramatically across its face.  Hanging above the tree line, the moon was set apart from nearby lights, the dark sky providing a perfect backdrop.

There you go.  Now you had the same experience I did: very little in the way of meteors, but one excellent moon.  🙂

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Gazing at the Moon

I noticed, while walking my dog, that the moon is nearly full.  (I thought it was actually full, but my calendar corrected me – the full moon is Saturday.)  This got me started on a lunar tangent. 

First I started thinking about the craters.  At some point, someone decided those large dark blobs on the face of the moon looked like a face.  This person (or persons) created the concept of the “Man in the Moon.”  After I see the man, I always try to find the rabbit.  Yes, I said rabbit.  It was explained to me once that, in Japan, the craters are interpreted as a rabbit making dumplings, not someone’s face.  So I play that fun game where you find one picture, then another, in the same image.  Face first, then rabbit.  (Random related trivia: in the original Japanese, Sailor Moon’s given name is Usagi, which means Rabbit.  For the rabbit in the moon, of course.  I guess I’m glad they didn’t call her Bunny in the English translation.  Doesn’t make as much sense, and it has a somewhat inappropriate connotation for a teenager in a short skirt.)

My next moon-related train of thought had to do with the special qualities of the full moon.  Certain pagan rituals can only take place on a full moon (or, conversely, on a new moon).  A full moon means trouble for a werewolf, and also supposedly for emergency rooms.  Some people even think that babies are more likely to be born on a full moon. 

There is a (silly) argument about the full moon and why these last two are true.  The full moon does have an effect on the height of tides, as lunar and solar gravity influence the level of large bodies of water.  (I can’t explain it very well, although I have a couple of marine ecology/aquatic science friends who could.  Just read about it here.)  Some people argue that it must also influence the movement of our blood. 

This is not any more true than the water in your toilet spinning clockwise or counter-clockwise based on which hemisphere you live in.  Both lunar gravity and the Coriolis effect (which makes hurricanes in different hemispheres spin in different directions) have effects on very large bodies of water.  They do not influence small bodies of water like toilets or blood.

Apparently there is one other effect of a full moon – it leads me on a very random tangent.  Did I miss your favorite trivia and/or effect of the moon?