Monday, November 2, 2015

Finding Venus, Mars, and Jupiter... and the International Space Station

Photo credit:
Tomorrow morning there will be another excellent opportunity to see the planetary trio of Mars, Venus, and Jupiter. They should be pretty easy to spot as long as your sky is relatively cloud free.

You'll want to look to the east a couple of hours before dawn and find the brightest thing in the sky just above the horizon.  That will be Venus.  Extend your arm in front of you with your index finger pointing outward and line up your finger with the left side of Venus.

Mars should be on the other side of your finger, almost parallel to Venus. It should look reddish, especially if you are viewing through binoculars or a telescope. Jupiter will be quite a bit higher in the sky and not quite as bright as Venus.

Photo credit:
If you miss it tomorrow morning, each day, Venus will move farther away from Mars so keep that in mind if you look for it on a different morning. It will always be the brightest thing in the sky over the horizon. 

This will be the view on Friday, November 6th, when Jupiter buddies up to the Moon.

You should have no trouble seeing the planets since the Moon will be a waning crescent.

Over the weekend, the Moon will continue to move down in the sky so that by Saturday morning, it should be sitting right next to Venus.

Photo credit:

You can read more about this HERE on
Photo Credit:
The International Space Station will also be visible every morning this week on both coasts.  You should be able to spot it with the nnaided eye -- it's the third brightest thing in the sky and even city dwellers should have no trouble identifying it.  With a good pair of binoculars or even a modest telescope, you should be able to see a fair amount of structural detail.  

You can register for alerts or simply check the schedule HERE on NASA's website.  NASA will send alerts when the ISS is passing overhead just before dawn and just after dusk.  THIS is a link that explains how to interpret the information in the alert so you can find the ISS.

And mark your calendars now:  the next spacewalk will be happening this Friday when Commander Scott Kelly and Flight Engineer Kjell Lindgren step out of the airlock and into space.  Log into NASA TV to watch the preparations and the actual walk.  NASA broadcasts feeds from cameras mounted on the astronauts' helmets and on the space station itself.

You can read more about this on  The schedule for all upcoming live events on NASA TV is HERE.  Coverage for this Friday;s spacwalk begins at 5:30 AM EST (2:30 AM Pacific) and the spacewalk starts at 7:10 AM EST (4:10 AM Pacific).

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Hunter's Moon - October 26-27, 2015

The nearly full moon just over the horizon, hiding behind cloud cover.
Tonight (October 26th) and tomorrow night (October 27th) we are on either side of the full moon, which actually becomes full while it is below the horizon on the morning of October 27th.  Despite the cloud cover this evening, I was able to get some wonderful images of the Moon.  Unfortunately, I missed it as it was coming up over the mountains;  the cloud cover was just too thick.

Tomorrow we will try again.  The October full moon, the Hunter's Moon, should present a spectacular show.  As it comes up low over the horizon, it should look lightly burnt orange due to the effect of the atmosphere on light waves. The atmosphere scatters blue waves so when we look through the densest part of the atmosphere to the full moon at the horizon, we will be seeing the red light waves reflected to a greater or lesser degree, hence the amber or orange color.  And since the Moon is still in perigee, it will be the last supermoon of the season.  That coupled with the phenomenon of "moon illusion" makes the moon look overly large as well.

The "halo" is created by the effect of moonshine on the high thin clouds that are floating in front of the moon.
The full moon, nearly directly overhead, at midnight.  It had just peaked out from behind some clouds.

The Hunter's Moon rises just after sunset in the east, so check the time of your local sunset and moonrise times so you don't miss the action.  Tonight the moon will rise about 45 minutes later and set tomorrow morning over an hour later than today.  Do drop by this post tomorrow for additional images of the moon as it rises this evening and sets in the morning.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Beautiful Roses... Patio Perfection

Potted annuals on the table on the patio.
Our patio garden is thriving.  We have pots and pots of annuals -- I just replanted the window boxes with chrysanthemums and pansies in and amongst the calibrachoa and coleus which continue to thrive.

Our Meyer lemon tree will have a generous crop of lemons for us in another month or two and around the bottom of the lemon tree, spearmint is growing enthusiastically and will be a welcome addition to tabbouleh salad over the winter.

The mauve blend floribunda Koko Loco.
We continue to harvest thyme and oregano but I've fought a losing battle with the slugs over the basil.  And our succulents are doing equally well.  In fact, they've grown so much, they need to be repotted again.

But the stars of the patio are, without a doubt, the roses.  Neptune and Strawberry Hill just finished a bloom cycle; Neptune has a single bud remaining after a beautiful display of deep mauve-purple  blossoms. But Koko Loco and Sugar Moon picked up where the others have left off.

Koko Loco is a mauve blend floribunda bred by Christian Bedard in 2010 and introduced in the US in 2012 by Weeks Roses. We bought it for our garden in Newburyport as soon as it was available and I had it growing with Hot Cocoa where the pair made a fabulous combination.

Bud, barely opened, of Koko Loco
Here in California, the roses are much more enthusiastic growers and bloomers than the same roses grown in New England, with its much shorter growing season and variable weather. 

Here, we can really appreciate the color changes in Koko Loco. Considered a "mauve blend", the buds have a dark peachy color, open up as a buff that is close to the color of creamy hot chocolate, and gradually evolve to a true mauve. Having all of the different colorations present in different blooms at the same time on the shrub is a treat! 

It's coloration reminds me a lot of Bella'roma, a hybrid tea bred by Dr. Keith Zary in 2003. It was one of the first roses we planted in our garden in Newburyport and was one of my long time favorites, not just for its color but for its wonderful fragrance. Bella'roma is a peach-yellow blend, but in our New England garden, the colors were more subtle and before it turned brighter yellow, it was the same buff colored tinged in peach that I love in the Koko Loco.

The hybrid tea, Sugar Moon, crisp white and wonderfully fragrant.
The white bloom, one of the purest white roses we have ever grown, is Sugar Moon, another wonderful hybrid tea hybridized by Christian Bedard (2012). I was attracted to Sugar Moon not only because of the large blossoms and bright white coloring but because of the fragrance - a perfect blend of citrus and rose.

Although not as prolific a bloomer as the floribunda Koko Loco, the blooms are amazing and the rose usually has at least one blossom open and perfuming the patio at any given time. It's a wonderful cut rose for the vase as well, and I frequently clip buds to finish opening indoors.

Koko Loco,showing hints of peach and mauve.
The opening blossom of Koko Loco shows more of its peachy tones.
Koco Loco, bloom gradually shifts from peach to mauve
Early bloom is more peach in color.
Side of our patio, the coleus have thrived!

Front of our patio, with newly replanted window boxes; the snapdragon we planted in spring is still blooming vigorously.  In the background, the Meyer lemon displays fruit from several bloom periods.
Some of the smallest baby lemons from the last bloom a few weeks ago.
One of the earliest lemons is started to ripen but it will be weeks yet before it's ready to be picked.
This morning I discovered new buds - meaning yet another crop of lemons.  With at least four different crops from four different blossoming times, we should have fresh lemons over the winter and into the spring.
These were from the second crop and won't ripen for at least a couple of months.
This bud of Neptune will be open in the next day or so.  While the buds are a deep rosy mauve, the mature blooms are a lavender mauve and the roses has the strong citrus notes in the fragrance that I've come to associate with lavender roses.

Sunrise, Sunset

Here in the Napa Valley, where we can go weeks or months without clouds or rain, thunderstorms are such a rare occurrence, they are a media event and sunrise and sunset are magical times of the day.  There is no question we had some exquisite sunsets on the East Coast, but they occurred far less frequently than we see them here, mostly due to the weather.  And unlike here, a colorful sunrise on the East Coast signified bad weather in the offing.  
That old sailor's ditty, "Red sky at night, sailor's delight, red sky at morning, sailors take warning." held true where we lived on the Northeast Coast of Massachusetts. Here, a gorgeous, brilliant colored sunrise usually gives way to bright blue skies with no stormy weather in sight, often to our dismay.

I love to watch the sun rise over the hills behind our house. On a clear sky morning, the colors are amazing and the presence of high thin clouds adds to the magic. 

Sunrise here is also later than on the East Coast, mostly, I think, due to the change in latitude. The closer you are to the Equator, the later the sun rises and the earlier it sets. 

Today, for example, the sun rose at 7:19 AM and will set here at 6:17 PM.  And the sky doesn't begin to brighten well before sunrise the way it does in New England. The sky is dark almost until the sun starts to edge over the horizon and likewise in the evening, when the sun goes down, we don't have the kind of "dusk" that we have in New England. This has taken some getting used to for me.

In contrast, in Boston today, the sun rose at 7:10 AM and will set at 5:46 PM, but both morning twilight and evening dusk are much longer in the northern, eastern city of Boston where the skies were beginning to lighten before 6:30 and will still be light enough for sailors to see the horizon at almost 7 PM.

This morning, the skies are overcast and we had dense fog, although there is no precipitation in the forecast. It was such a contrast to the glorious sunrise I photographed three days ago, which is our "norm". The sky was so grey and the fog was so thick, you couldn't see the hills behind the house.

Now that fall is here, we see more radiation fog,.  As the days shorten and the nights get longer, the air is much cooler for a greater part of the day/night cycle. The land and water surfaces are still warm, much warmer than the air, as they retain the heat from the summer and from the sun. The cool, night time air passing over the warm land and water (we border the Napa RIver delta where it empties into San Pablo Bay) results in fog.

The fog usually burns off by late morning and then the sky is brilliant blue and the temperature rises rapidly.  Currently, it's a cool and somewhat damp 55 degrees but by 3 PM the temperature will have climbed to at least 75 degrees, possibly a bit higher.
Brilliant colors across the eastern sky as the sun rises over the horizon.
Taken two days ago, there was fog hovering over the hills and clouds low in the sky.  When the sun came up over the fog line, it cast a glorious glow on the clouds and the hills.
Sunset, looking west over the Napa River delta at Waters Edge Drive, our favorite place to watch the sun set here in town.
As the sun sinks below the horizon, the colors of the sky become more vivid.
Above and Below:  Looking east during sunset, although the setting sun is not visible from our apartment, the brilliant red of the setting sun is reflected in the clouds all over the sky.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

For those of you who enjoy spotting planets in the sky, the next several days will provide a great opportunity to see Mercury, Mars, Venus, Jupiter which will all dot the eastern sky before dawn for the next few days.

Venus, Mars, and Jupiter form a tight grouping in the sky known as a planetary trio. They won't be visible in such close proximity in the sky again until 2016.

The planets are best seen about an hour before sunrise... another "bennie", since you don't have to stay up late or get up in the middle of the night to see them. reports that Venus will be at it's highest point in the sky tomorrow morning, but the planets should all be visible through the morning of October 29th.

And don't let the presence of high thin clouds deter you. The stars might not be clearly visible but the brightly shining planets may still peak through breaks in the clouds.

Mercury will be rising just over the horizon. If you face tall trees or hills in the east, it might not be visible, but if you drive a short distance to an area where the horizon is low, you can probably spot this elusive planet.

Here are some links to more information about this. Photos are credited to

You can read articles about viewing these planets HERE and HERE.   
Photographer Ken Christison captured the image below of the planetary trio despite the presence of clouds in the sky. The photo gives you a good sense of the brightness and size of each planet, helpful for separating them out from everything else in the nighttime sky.

Note that the positions of the planets will change somewhat during the night and from night to night.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Orionid Meteor Shower - October 21-22

Early to bed, early to rise, there will be meteors again in the early morning skies!!

Tomorrow morning, and possibly to a somewhat greater extent, on Thursday morning as well, we'll be treated to another meteor show, this time courtesy of the debris from Comet Halley.
Photo Credit:  NASA Image of Halley's Comet from
Halley's Comet might be the most famous of all comets but we usually only see it once or at most twice in our lifetime since it takes takes 76 years to complete it's orbit around the Sun. While it won't pass this way again until the year 2061, twice a year we are treated to a light show courtesy of debris from Halley's tail, first in May (the Eta Aquarid Meteor Shower) and then again in October (the Orion Meteor Shower).

The Orionid meteor shower gets its name from the constellation Orion where the bulk of the meteors seem to emanate. Orion is a particularly easy constellation to locate because it contains some of the brightest stars that we can see even in areas with a fair amount of light pollution.

To locate Orion in the night sky in the Northern Hemisphere, look to the East - Southeast and locate Orion's belt, which is formed by three bright stars, Alnitak, Alnilam, and Mintaka. These three very large and bright stars are aligned very close together, angling up. From there you can look higher and to the left in the sky for his shoulders which are formed by Betelgeuse and Bellatrix, and his head, marked by Meissa. Look down and to the right to find his knees, Saiph and Rigel, and if you look between his knees and his belt you'll find the spectacular Orion Nebulae. 

As your eyes acclimate to the night sky and travel from landmark to landmark in that famous constellation, you should start to see shooting stars emanating from the radiant, which is at positioned just about at the club he holds in his outstretched right arm. (Remember, his right arm is on the left as you look at him... .) It's almost as though he is throwing pixie dust -- okay, star dust - at us.

Photo Credit: ~ Navigating with Orion
Note: This early in the fall, Orion is mostly below the horizon in the evening sky. It does not rise high enough above the horizon to be fully visible until midnight or so, and when he first clears the horizon he will look as though he is lying somewhat horizontally. tilted toward his back (to the left). As he rises in the sky and travels along the equator of the sky, he will straighten up. But locating the famous belt first helps to identify the other major stars in the constellation.

If you are too tired to stay up past midnight, try catching a glimpse of some shooting stars in the early morning before dawn.  Here in California it's completely dark until nearly 7 AM when the sky is just starting to lighten for a 7:20 AM sunrise. 
Try looking out at 5:30 - 6 AM. You should still be able to see it, but follow the path of Orion across the sky's equator as it rises. It will move across the sky during the night as the Earth rotates, so look to the south west.

One other famous star that is also visible once Orion is well above the horizon and completely visible in the night sky is Sirius, the brightest star we can see. Follow the angle of Orion's belt downward and Sirius will be in an almost straight line below Alnitak.

Photo Credit: ~ Navigating with Orion
Click on THIS LINK for a map that will show the location of Orion from anywhere int he world. has excellent information about the Orionids HERE and HERE.   

Check for moon rise and set times HERE.
And for those who want to locate the constellations that are in the evening sky, THIS is one of the best on-line star charts I've seen.  Note, however, that Orion is sitting just at the horizon and pretty much out of view during much of the evening. 

Comparing the photo (left) and the diagram below, note the change in the angle of the belt stars, which you might confuse with the nebulae that makes up the dagger.  I always orient the belt first and then it's easy to identify the other prominent stars of the constellation.
Photo Credit: ~ Navigating with Orion

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Five Planets Visible in the Sky

Illustration Credit:
Tonight and tomorrow, the evening sky presents an excellent opportunity to see Saturn. Tonight, you can look for it low in the southwest sky, just to the left of the moon. You should be able to see it without any optics, but a good pair of binoculars or even a modest telescope will provide a feast for the eyes as you should be able to see Saturn's rings!

The article linked HERE gives instructions for locating Mercury, Mars, Venus, and Jupiter as well. Since the moon is a very small waxing crescent, visibility will be best tonight, good the next two nights as the crescent gets larger and brightens the adjacent sky.

Illustration Credit:
Planets like Saturn shine steadily;  they don't twinkle the way stars do.  The other bright object that you are likely to encounter in this area of the sky is a reddish star, Anatares, the heart of Scorpius.

Antares should definitely appear reddish in your telescope and it twinkles enthusiastically.  It will be to the left of Saturn, with Saturn almost at the mid-point between Antares and the Moon.  If you don't get to view the night sky before the weekend, on Saturday you'll find Antares directly below the moon and Saturn way to the right, forming a triangle.

Four other planets brighten the pre-dawn sky.  The article gives excellent tips for locating Jupiter, Mars, Mercury, and Venus HERE.  Mars and Jupiter will be next door sky-neighbors this weekend.  They will be the closest they'll be for our viewing for the next three years on Sunday just before dawn.

Jupiter will appear to continue to slide under Mars in the night sky over the weekend.  It will be worth getting up early to see...  they won't be this close again until 2018.
Credit:    Mars and Jupiter as they will appear early Sunday morning


Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Magnificent Moon - Part 2

Moonrise, Sunset, and Lunar Eclipses


A spectacular sunset.  We only see this brilliant display when there are clouds!
This month we experience not just a gorgeous supermoon, tomorrow evening (Sunday, September 27th) the Full Moon will also undergo a complete or Total Lunar Eclipse.  What could be more exciting for an astronomy buff!

The sunset this evening was truly glorious...  just enough thin clouds were scattered across the sky to capture and reflect the last red rays of the sun as the Moon rose over the hills behind our home.

The Sun set at 7:01 PM here in Northern California and dusk was gorgeous with red and purple ribbons crisscrossing the sky in the west.

I loved the way the moonlight was reflected on the clouds.
Moonrise this evening was at 6:15 PM, just before sunset and the Moon was well over the horizon and visible over the hills when I first spotted it opposite the sunset.  I took some truly magical photos between 7:15 and 7:30 PM of both the moonrise and this evening's gorgeous sunset.  The Moon will continue to rise in the sky, getting to its peak or passing over the "meridian", shortly after midnight.  It will set in the morning at 7:39 AM.

Early risers can see the nearly full, huge supermoon drift toward the horizon and then hover briefly as it sets in the morning sky shortly after the sun rises at 7:02 AM.

The moon at dusk, shortly after sunset.
The vivid colors of this evening's sunset bode well for tomorrow's weather.  It's an old wives tale and a total fallacy that dust or pollution makes a sunset prettier.  In truth, vivid, colorful sunsets occur when the air to the west is clear and since that air will be over you the following morning, it almost always signals good weather for the following day.

Tomorrow's moon will rise at 6:56 PM, peak and turn full at 7:51 PM where we live on the West Coast and at 10:51 PM on the East Coast.  During this time, we will be privileged to see a total lunar eclipse (see details for viewing below).

On a side note, all full moons bring with them higher than usual tides, but when the Moon is at perigee -- that is, at its closest point to Earth -- the tides are even higher.  This is generally only a problem if it happens coincidentally at a time when a strong end of summer storm brings high winds and high waves.  Then serious beach erosion and damage to critical dunes can occur.  The New England seacoast is no stranger to these problems.

Understanding a Lunar Eclipse  

What makes this month's full moon is that it coincides with a complete or total eclipse that will occur with moonrise on Sunday evening, September 27th.

A lunar eclipse occurs when a full moon is in direct alignment with the Earth and the Sun with the Earth in the center and the Sun and the Moon on opposite sides of the Earth.

Most months, at the time of the full moon, the Moon's orbit is tilted with respect to the Earth and Sun and it passes above or below the point at which the three celestial bodies would be in an essentially straight line.  About every 6 month, conditions may be right for a lunar eclipse but it can only be seen when the full moon rises at or after dark in the part of the world that is viewing the Moon over the horizon.  We are fortunate that that will happen tomorrow night (September 27th) and the eclipse will be visible throughout the entire Western Hemisphere and portions of the eclipse will also be visible in much of Europe and western Africa. 

Where we live in Northern California, the penumbral eclipse will begin before moonrise and we will not see it as the Moon will still be below the horizon. The Moon will rise at 6:56 PM and the eclipse will be almost full at that point.  It will reach maximum fullness at 7:11 PM and the total eclipse will last until 8:23 PM. The partial eclipse (as the Moon passes out of the Earth's dark shadow) will end roughly an hour later (9:27 PM) and the penumbral phase of the eclipse will end at 10:22 PM.

This Infographic, from, shows the positions of the Sun, Earth, and Moon during a total lunar eclipse as well as the distribution of the shadows formed by the Earth as it block's the Sun's rays.  

The shadow cast by the Earth is cone shaped. and when the Moon passes into the Earth's shadow, it passes into the lighter shadow - the penumbra - that extends out from the circumference of the Earth.  

When the Moon moves directly behind the Earth, it is in full shadow, the umbra or darkest part of the shadow.  

After a period of about an hour or so of "totality", where the Moon is in deep shadow behind the Earth, it continues to move through its orbit and once again enters the penumbra. 

During the time that the Moon is in total shadow, it is still visible, but appears vividly colored, often a coppery or red color.  In order to be able to see this phenomenon, you must be on the side of the Earth oriented toward the moon, actually in the umbra, where it will be night time.  If you are geographically on the side of the Earth facing the sun, it will be daytime, the moon will be behind the Earth, and you will be unable to see the eclipse (except on TV or the computer!).

The best place to view the eclipse is where you have a good view of the horizon as the Moon is rising in the East.  The Sun will set in the West at almost the same time that the Moon is rising in the East.  You may be able to see another vivid sunset opposite the spectacular rise of the Moon on the opposite side of the sky.  Followers of the blog can check in here for my own photographs of the Moon throughout the evening.


Saturday, September 19, 2015

The Magnificent Moon - Part 1

July's full moon, with clouds dancing across the sky.

The Magnificent Moon

This is a special time for astronomy buffs. It began in July, when we had an extra full moon in the summer season - two full moons in the month of July.  The first was at the beginning of the month (July 2nd) and the second occurred on July 31st.

This rare phenomenon, called a "Blue Moon" happens every once in a ... blue moon.  We last saw a blue moon in August 2012.   It occurs every three to four years and it happens when there are four full moons in a season. 

Because the lunar cycle is 29.5 days in length, when there is a "blue moon", typically there will be two full moons in a given calendar month: the first full moon early in the month, usually on the first or second day of the month, with the next full moon occurring on or before the last date of the same calendar month. This latter definition, popularizing by a 1946 article in Sky and Telescope magazine, was officially corrected in 1999 to reflect the association of a Blue Moon with a season.
We are also in the period of the Supermoons.  Supermoons happen when a full moon is at its closest point to the Earth during the full moon phase, making it appear unusually large. Last summer we saw several spectacular Supermoons.  Although August's Supermoon was impressive, the next Supermoon, which occurs on September 27th, is going to be beyond spectacular since it will also feature a total lunar eclipse. 

Full Moons and Their Names  

Many cultures, including the Chinese, Celtic, Old English, and Native American tribes have given names to each monthly full moon.  Moon phases and cycles allowed early cultures to keep track of the seasons and they served as a calendar of sorts.  

The best known names for the monthly full moons originated with the Algonquin tribes who lived in New England and westward through New York to Lake Superior. The European settlers adopted the Native American habit of naming the moons and invented some of their own names, all of which have been passed down through subsequent generations.

Every full moon had many names, depending on the culture and North American Indian tribe, but the following list are some of the most common.  

January:  Wolf Moon

The January full moon was named for the
howling of wolves that can be heard echoing in the cold winter air.  Some tribes also referred to the January full moon as the Snow Moon. 

February:  Snow Moon, Hunger Moon

The February full moon was most popularly called the Snow Moon.  A few tribes referred to the January moon by this name but historically, the winter snow fall peaked in February, accounting for the name.  Another common name, the Hunger Moon, referred to the very difficult hunting conditions that resulted from harsh weather and the decreased population of animals that were a source of food during the long winter and which became more scarce by the end of the season.   

March:  Worm Moon, Sap Moon, Lenten Moon

The March snow melt softened the ground revealing earthworm activity, an early and important sign of spring.  In New England especially, the running of the sap in the maple trees gave rise to the name the Sap Moon. Early Christian settlers often referred to it as the Lenten Moon, since the last moon of winter generally preceded Easter.

April: The Pink Moon, Egg Moon, Fish Moon, Sprouting Grass Moon

Among the first spring flowers to appear are the pink wild ground phlox which cover the meadows and fields in early April, hence the name, the Pink Moon.  Other common names reflected other early signs of spring.  Birds built nests and began to lay eggs (the Egg Moon), fish woke from hibernation and began to procreate as well (the Fish Moon), and the greening of pastures was welcomed with the name the Sprouting Grass Moon. 

May:   Flower Moon, Corn Planting Moon, Milk Moon

Prolific spring blooms are credited for the most popular name for May’s full moon, the Flower Moon.  Corn was planted in May (Corn Planting Moon), and spring calves meant more cows producing milk for the first time (Milk Moon).  

June:  Strawberry Moon, Rose Moon

Strawberry crops peak mid-June and the Strawberry Moon is one of the few moons that is virtually universal among most cultures and tribes in North America and Europe. However, more recently it is also referred to as the Rose Moon since rose blooming peaks this month as well in the Northern Hemisphere.

July:  Buck Moon, Thunder Moon

The Buck Moon gets its name from the velvety antlers that buck deer begin growing in July.  In New England, frequent late afternoon thunderstorms made the name the Thunder Moon popular. 

August: The Sturgeon Moon, Grain Moon, Red Moon

The Sturgeon Moon takes its name from the freshwater sturgeon, an important food fish that was in season in the month of August. The hazy August skies often resulted in a reddish tinge to the moon, prompting the name, the Red Moon.  And summer grain harvests are reflected in the name the Grain Moon.

September:  Harvest Moon

Although many vegetable and grain harvests occur earlier in the summer, most of the staple foods and those foods such as root vegetables which were stored for winter use were harvested in September.   The Harvest Moon had a practical value as well.  With the days becoming shorter and shorter, the Harvest Moon enabled farmers to work late into the evening harvesting crops.  The name Harvest Moon relied less on the calendar and more on the timing of the autumn equinox, which occasionally falls in October.   

October:  Hunter's Moon

After a summer of grazing and feeding, deer, pheasant, partridge, and another wild game are ready for hunting and eating. The fall hunting season inspired the name for the Hunter’s Moon. 

November:  Beaver Moon

The Beaver Moon was so named for the beavers who would be trapped for their furs which provided warmth during the cold New England winters.

December:  Cold Moon, Long Night Moon

The long cold winter nights inspired names for the December full moon.  The Cold Moon no doubt speaks to the cold December nights and the winter solstice, which is the longest night of the year, lends its name to the Long Night Moon.

The Phases of the Moon


As the Moon orbits around the Earth, part or all of it is blocked from our view by its relative position to both the Earth and the Sun.   One half of the Moon -- the side facing the Sun -- is always illuminated by the Sun.  The light we see is not generated by the Moon; it is the Sun's light reflecting off the Moon. 

The part of the Moon that is in shadow during the phases of the Moon is the portion of the Moon that is not illuminated by the Sun.  The Moon is not being shadowed by the Earth.  That only happens during a Lunar Eclipse, when the Moon passes through the Earth's shadow.  [That will be explained more fully in The Magnificent Earth - Part 2.]

When we view the Moon, we are seeing the Moon from an angle that forms between the Earth, Moon and Sun as the Moon revolves around the Earth.  Although the side of the Moon facing the Sun is always illuminated, if we are positioned parallel to the Moon, for example, we will only see the half of the illuminated side of the Moon facing us.  That is a Quarter Moon.

When the Earth, Moon and Sun are in a straight line, we either see all of the Moon or none of the Moon.  If the Moon is between the Earth and the Sun, we see none of the illuminated side of the Moon - which ias .  That is the "New Moon".  

At the time of the New Moon, the Moon is between the Earth and the Sun and it rises and sets with the Sun and it's path across the sky during the day is obscured by the Sun's glare.  Most months, the Earth, Moon, and Sky are not lined up in a perfect line;  if they were, we would have a Solar Eclipse.  In fact, that rarely happens, and even when it does, it is only visible at certain points on the Earth.  For a Solar Eclipse to occur, the line-up has to be exact and totality occurs only along a very narrow plane.  

The Moon's orbit is elliptic in shape and tilted with respect to the Earth's. Because of the elliptic shape of the Moon's orbit, even when the Moon is between the Earth and Sun, it is rarely close enough to the Earth to be large enough to fully block the Sun and place the Earth in shadow.  More often than not, at the New Moon, the Moon is in close proximity to the Sun but instead of obscuring the view of the Sun, the Sun's brilliance obscures our view of the Moon.

This is the best time of the month to sky watch and to look for different celestial features.  Without the Moon's light, reflected from the Sun, you can see the sky in greater detail.  Meteor showers that occur during the New Moon or Waxing or Waning Crescents are much more dramatic than those that occur during the Full Moon, when the light from the Moon can make it difficult to see all but the brightest shooting stars.

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As the Moon proceeds through it's orbit around the Earth, more of the illuminated side is revealed as the Waxing Crescent.  The Waxing Crescent is the sliver of the right side of the Moon that gradually increases in the days following the New Moon.  Each night, the left edge gradually gets larger until the entire Moon is revealed at the Full Moon. 

At the quarter point, the First Quarter shows the Moon as a semicircle extending from that right side of the Moon.  Between the First Quarter and the Full Moon, we see more of the Moon revealed along that left edge and as it bulges into something akin to an oval, that phase is referred to as the Gibbous Moon, or Waxing Gibbous,

If you are looking at the Moon through a telescope,  the best time and place to look at the landmarks on the moon is along the edge of the shadow, where the craters and other landmarks are heavily shadowed and stand out dramatically.  

Especially at the time of the Gibbous moons, you can see many of the landmarks very clearly.  

L: First Quarter (Credit:    R: Waxing Gibbous (Credit:

July, 2015, American Canyon, CA

The Full Moon occurs when the Earth is between the Moon and the Sun, with the Sun fully illuminating the visible surface of the Moon.  The alignment is approximate; if they are in an essentially parallel line, we have a Lunar Eclipse.  [The next Lunar Eclipse will occur on September 27th and will be discussed in the next post, The Magnificent Moon - Part 2.]  

Just as with the New Moon, the line up is skewed enough (actually, by about 180 degrees) due to the Moon's elliptical orbit so that the side of the Moon facing the Sun appears to be fully illuminated by sunlight and visible to us on Earth.  So even when we are seeing a Full Moon, the Moon that we see is not entirely round, although it appears that way to us on Earth.
We actually see only about half of the truly full moons in the Northern Hemisphere, since the other half are below the horizon at night.  But for several days on either side of the nearly "Full Moon", the reflected sunlight from the moon provides an adequate source of light for people to navigate and work outside, often with minimal or no other illumination.  

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Following the Full Moon, in the waning phase of the Moon, the Moon follows the same sequence it did in the waxing phase, but in reverse order, of course.  The  Full Moon evolves into the Waning Gibbous and about a week later, we see the Third Quarter or Last Quarter Moon, and the Waxing Crescent.  As the Moon waxes, it waxes in the opposite direction of the waning Moon.  The left side of the Moon remains fully illuminated and the shadow forms and increases from the right side.

The Waxing Gibbous and Last Quarter moons often rise very late, after midnight, and therefore sets quite late, often after dawn.  It's not unusual to see the Waxing Gibbous and Last Quarter moons in the morning sky.

Waning Gibbous Moon and Last Quarter Moon (Credit: and Waning Crescent (Credit: 

In the next blog post, we'll look at what happens during a Lunar Eclipse, and what to expect when we see the next Total Lunar Eclipse that happens in conjunction with September's Supermoon in a little over a week from now.