Daily Archives: December 8, 2009

lunar lore

Lunar libration with phase Oct 2007

Lunar libration

Last Wednesday marked the twelfth full moon of 2009, but it isn’t the last full moon of the year. Another will occur on December 31st. While the definition of a blue moon has varied over time, the current meaning describes the phenomenon of two full moons occurring in one month.  If you’re fond of using the expression “once in a blue moon,” you might want to be careful–literally, you’re saying “once every 2.71542689 years.”

According to the Farmer’s Almanac, the full moon on the 2nd will be the traditional “Cold Moon,” while the one on the 31st will be called the “Blue Moon,” although you can participate in the Almanac’s contest to name it.  During the New Year’s Eve full moon, there will also be  a partial lunar eclipse, when the Earth will just barely cast its shadow on the lunar surface, although the event will be invisible to almost all of the US.

Our connection with the moon is varied and fascinating.  For example, we all know the superstition that the full moon causes people to act crazily.  The etymology of “lunatic” actually derives from the Latin word for moon, lunaRich folklore from all over the world surrounds our nearest astral neighbor

Our scientific relationship with the moon is no less exciting.  From conspiracies about whether men really walked on the moon to close observations of the moon’s effect on tides, the scientifically-minded also keep an eye on the sky.  In fact, December’s lunar lineup seems a fitting finale for a year in which two missions, by India and NASA, discovered water on the moon.

Happy sky gazing!  Don’t forget to let out a little howl, too.


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