Monday, October 01, 2007

Early Autumn is the Season of the Moon

Early Autumn is the Season of the Moon
by Dave Adalian

In ye olde days, when folks made their livings off the land, the Moon was an invaluable tool for bringing in the harvest when days turned short just as the crop came ripe.

Light the face of the full moon reflects, even though it’s much dimmer than the Sun’s, is enough to swing a scythe by. It allowed farmers to work well past sunset and get food they and their animals needed to survive a long, harsh winter into storage before wet and freezing weather rotted it in the fields.

While most of us toil in air-conditioned surroundings these days, echoes of earlier times are still with us in the names we give each month’s full moon and in the myths that surround our satellite.

The full moon of September, when the last of the corn is being cut and the hay mowed, is the Harvest Moon, the one that helped our ancestors see their way through the night, and it still carries that honorific today. October’s full moon, rising when the fields are cut to stubble and prey has nowhere left to hide, is still called the Hunter’s Moon in these modern days of supermarkets.

The other thing autumn’s moons carry with them is the myth they loom larger in the sky than moons do the rest of the year. It isn’t so.

The Moon is always the same size, and though its orbit isn’t a perfect circle -- meaning it’s sometimes slightly closer to Earth than at other times -- the difference isn’t noticeable to the naked eye. But, when the Moon is close to the horizon, it appears bigger than when it’s high overhead. A trick of the eye that’s perhaps more noticeable this time of year when more people are out and about at moonrise.

On Friday, the Moon will be at first quarter, meaning its western half will be illuminated, and it will be due south at sunset. Watch as it grows fatter and moves east from night to night until it reaches fullness seven days later.

That night, when the full moon rises over the Sierra, notice how large it looks, then measure it by holding your hand at arm’s length with a pinkie extended. Half the tip of your little finger should cover it.

Come back outside closer to midnight, when Luna is riding high, and measure her again. She’ll look much smaller up among the stars, but your finger will tell you the difference is all in your head.


For more on the names of full moons, check out this article from the Old Farmer's Almanac.

What phase is the Moon in tonight? Click here to find out.


This column appeared originally in the Visalia (Calif.) Times-Delta and Tulare (Calif.) Advance-Register on Oct. 18, 2007.

No comments: