Thursday, January 3, 2013

The moon

What: I've been trying to pay a bit more attention to the moon the past few months, and the last couple of nights I've returned to a project I started when I lived out under the stars in Santa Barbara. Astronomy completely perplexed me and I couldn't really understand anything I was reading about the moon so I decided to put the books down and just do my own research.

Here's what I've learned so far from observing the moon:
  1. The moon doesn't rotate along its own axis. Every night, regardless of phase, time of year, etc. the moon is always facing us with that same sonorous "face".
  2. It takes the moon longer to rotate around the earth than it takes the earth to spin in a full circle.
  3. It takes a little less than 53 minutes longer to reach the same point in the sky on each successive day (53 minutes goes into 24 hours about 28 times - each day the moon is 53 minutes further behind, after 28 days it has made a complete revolution)
  4. As a result the moon is in a different position relative to the sun by the time we can see it each night, resulting in a different "phase" of moon (I'll post a crummy drawing in a couple of days that will show this)
  5. If the section of moon that's lit up is on the west side the moon is waning (getting smaller), if it's on the east then it's waxing (getting bigger).
  6. On a full moon, the moon rises just as the sun sets, and sets just as the sun is rising
Photo I took of the full moon in October, 2012, compare with
the image of the waning gibbous moon, above right
I may be wrong on some of this so feel free to fact check me (just no using books). Nate (aka Gull, aka woodsmen drums smith) and I were just talking about the difference between smartphone apps like Moon Phase or websites like the moonrise finder and using primary experience to find things out. I think it's in the moments between finding the answers that are so important, like hearing the steel girders of the baseball stadium awning creak and groan and rumble like the belly of a ship as the temperature dropped (just as I could watch the moon move, I could almost feel the temperature drop from 2oF @ 7pm to -5oF at midnight). Using an app I would have missed the shooting stars blazing streaks across the sky. Perhaps in the end the information gleaned is the same, but the process is entirely different and I greatly prefer the long road, which is always home to many many divergent paths.

Other notes: Gibbous comes from the Old English "hump" or "hunch" and was used to describe hunchbacks before it was used to describe the moon.

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