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19 Jul Morning Thoughts

A beautiful dawn this morning. I was up unusually early because Cressie decided to bark and bark and bark—she was bored and wanted someone to play with. So we went out into the back yard together. The sky was just lightening, slate blue shading to gray, with feathery brushstrokes of pink-gold clouds. High over the treetops swam the waning, almost-new moon, the thinnest of silver-gold crescents, with bright Venus glimmering beside it.

Cressie quartered the yard, inspected the fence and garden, sniffed all the delicious early-morning smells and stopped by every few minutes to touch her little muzzle to my leg—“Just checking in, Mama.” I watched the sun come up, and the moon and Venus fade into the light. There is an unsettling combination of delight and sorrow in my life right now, and looking out into the sky helps me keep it all in balance.

That delicate touch of a beagle girl’s muzzle against my leg doesn’t hurt, either.

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02 May The Stars of May

The fickle Flower Moon of May, with all her starry suitorsThe Flower Moon of May 2009 will have lots of starry (and planet-y) companions. On the evenings of the third and fourth, look for Saturn close to the Moon. On the sixth, the bright star close to the Moon at nightfall is Spica, the brightest star in the constellation Virgo, representing the sheaf of wheat in the virgin’s hand. (“Spica” means “ear of grain” in Latin.)

On the tenth, the Moon moves from virgins to scorpions—it will rise together with Antares, the vibrant reddish brightest star in the constellation Scorpio. On the sixteenth and seventeenth, on the other hand, the Moon will team with Jupiter, which looks like a bright yellow-white star.

And as if the Moon hasn’t been fickle enough so far, on the twentieth and twenty-first it will line up with Venus and Mars first thing in the mornings. Venus is the morning star this month and so bright you can’t miss it. Mars is fainter and redder. Look for it just below the Moon on the morning of the twenty-first.

On the twenty-ninth, Regulus, the brightest star in the constellation Leo, is just to the upper right of the Moon. If you want to amaze your friends with your astronomical knowledge, explain that what we see as the star Regulus is actually a system of four stars, the blue-white Regulus A and its white-dwarf companion, plus another pair, Regulus B and Regulus C.

In addition to being called the Flower Moon—April showers having theoretically brought May flowers—the full Moon of May also called the Milk Moon and the Corn Planting Moon. Look for it on the ninth.

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09 Apr The Pink Moon

Tonight is April’s full moon—the “Pink Moon.” It’s called that, or so the story goes, because in the spring the meadows are covered with moss pinks, also known as wild ground phlox. Other names for April’s full moon are the Grass Moon, the Egg Moon, and among some coastal tribes of native Americans, the Fish Moon, because in April the fish swam upstream to spawn.

Funny thing is, the moon actually was pink tonight, as it rose over our back fence and the rooflines of our back neighbors’ houses. I tried to take a picture of it, but until I get the gizmo that attaches my camera to the telescope all I’m going to get are blurry bright circles. But truly, it was pinkish. Probably just some kind of esoteric pollution—but I’ll cling to my romantic notions, thank you.

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11 Mar The Worm Moon

Let's start calling it the Robin MoonWorm Moon? Who would name a full moon the Worm Moon? And in my birthday month, too.

The reason it’s called the Worm Moon, or so the tale goes, is that in March the ground at last become warm enough to bring earthworms back to the surface, which means robins will return (why didn’t they call it the Robin Moon? Much nicer-sounding) and the earth itself will soon be ready for tilling and planting.

Other names for March’s full moon are Crow Moon, Crust Moon (because the snow would thaw during the day and re-freeze at night, forming an icy crust over the surface, Sap Moon, and Lenten Moon. It’s the last full moon of Winter.

In other news, my revisions are proceeding apace. Both doggies seem to have recovered from their gastroenteritis. It’s (once again) gloomy, rainy, thundery and lightning-y today, but all is not lost—the Broadcasting Legend™ is making bean soup from scratch, with a ham bone and everything. Mmmmmm. Perfect rainy-day food. Tomorrow I’ll post his recipe.

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05 Mar The Stars of March

After all the excitement last month—comets! conjunctions! occultations! penumbral eclipses!—this month is quieter. There is some good planet viewing, however, particularly of Saturn.

  • March 8th: the moon, just two days to full, rises in the east at nightfall, just above the star Regulus (Alpha Leonis, the brightest star in the constellation Leo) and the plant Saturn.
  • March 9th: the moon rises between Regulus and Saturn, with Regulus above it and Saturn below it. A moon sandwich!
  • March 10th: the full moon rises below both Regulus and Saturn. Saturn is at its brightest for the year. One of my favorite childhood memories is the awe I felt the first time I observed Saturn and its rings through my little 60x telescope.
  • March 20th: the Vernal Equinox occurs at 6:44 a.m. Central Daylight Time, marking the beginning of Spring (yay!) in the Northern Hemisphere.

And speaking of Saturn: just this week it was reported that scientists found a moon hidden in one of Saturn’s outer rings. How cool is that? Saturn has a lot of moons (sixty-one, counting the new one) in addition to its rings, but there’s something about an unknown and mysterious moon hidden away within a ring. How could that be worked into a story?

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10 Feb The Cloud Moon

The full moon of February 9, 2009, photographed through a haze of clouds at Casa LoupasThe February full moon was last night. As you can see, the February stargazing score is now clouds two, Elizabeth zero—all I saw was a fuzzy-looking disk (no, that’s not the camera, it’s the clouds) high over the gables of our house. This full moon is usually called the Snow Moon or Hunger Moon. Colonial Americans called it the Trapper’s Moon and in medieval England it was sometimes called the Storm Moon. The Chinese refer to it as the Budding Moon (and some of our trees are already budding—it’s in the seventies today, although we’re under a tornado watch at the moment) and the Celts called it the Ice Moon. This year I’m calling it the Cloud Moon!

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31 Jan The Skies of February

Here’s my stargazing schedule for the coming month:

February 3rd: the gibbous moon will pass north of the Pleiades, eclipsing (well, the real term is occulting) some of the brightest stars. The dark side of the moon will cover the stars first, and then they will reappear from the moon’s bright side. Pretty cool.

February 9th: the full moon, called the Snow Moon. On that same night, there’ll be a penumbral lunar eclipse, which means the moon will pass through the edge of the Earth’s shadow. Truth be told, you won’t really see anything, but why not watch and imagine?

February 24th: Comet Lulin, a unique two-tailed comet, will reach its peak of brightness. Lulin was discovered in July 2007, and is named for the Lu-lin Observatory on Mt. Front Lu-Lin in Taiwan.

February 27th: the crescent moon and the bright planet Venus will be only a degree and a half apart. I am going to try to take a picture of this. I managed a fair picture of the “sad face” moon-Venus-Jupiter conjunction on December 2nd:

Conjunction of the moon, Venus and Jupiter, December 2, 2008

The crescent of the moon is a little blurry, but as the Broadcasting Legend™ says, 252,000 miles is a pretty long focal length for our little backyard camera. One day I’m going to buy the adapters and gadgets I need to attach the camera to my telescope. Although I don’t really want my stargazing to get too professional. What I love about it the most is the mystery and the history—the sense of millenia of people looking up at the sky and seeing the same things.

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12 Jan The Wolf Moon

The Wolf MoonLast night the moon was full—the Wolf Moon, as January’s full moon is called. The moon was also at its perigee, the point in its orbit when it is closest to the Earth, and therefore had good reason to look especially huge and majestic—the largest moon of 2009—as it rose over our back fence and the old-fashioned weathervane on our neighbor’s shed.

According to National Geographic, “Native Americans and medieval Europeans named January’s full moon after the howling of hungry wolves lamenting the midwinter paucity of food.” I wonder if there are moon names in Ferrarese history. Just what I need—another bit of lore to fascinate me. How I ever got a whole book done is a mystery, when there’s so much enticing research to follow. (Scribbles “names of full moons in Ferrara?” in research journal for later.)