• The Next Full Moon (tonight!) is the Harvest Moon

    Hey everyone! I’ve fallen off the face of the blogosphere lately as I’ve dealt with some family medical issues (all sorted out now!) and a scoop threat on a Science paper (submitted!). I’ll get back to posting soon – and back to coaxing co-bloggers into covering the latest and greatest in astrobiology and space sciences.

    For now, I give you this lunar cycle’s report on the skies from Gordon Johnston. It’s Harvest Moon time! Break out your pumpkin ales and apple ciders and get ready to rake the leaves. (Or I guess if you life in Florida you can continue to enjoy the beach.) Anyways, enjoy!


    The next full Moon will be on Saturday evening, September 29, 2012, reaching 180 degrees in Earth-based longitude away from the Sun at about 11:19 p.m. EDT. The Moon will appear full for about 3 days centered on this time, from Friday evening through Monday morning, making this a full Moon weekend.

    As the full Moon closest to the Autumnal Equinox, this will be the Harvest Moon. Farmers can work late into the night by the light of this Moon. Usually the full Moon rises an average of 50 minutes later each night, but for the few nights around the Harvest Moon, the Moon seems to rise at nearly the same time each night: just 25 to 30 minutes later across the U.S., and only 10 to 20 minutes later for much of Canada and Europe. In two years out of three, the Harvest Moon comes in September, but in some years it occurs in October.

    As the early Fall Moon or first full Moon after the Autumnal Equinox, this full Moon is also known as the Travel Moon, Dying Grass Moon, or the Blood Moon (some sources associate these names with the full Moon in October, which is usually but not always the first full Moon of the season). Another name for this full Moon is the GRAIL Moon, as the twin Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) spacecraft started their voyage towards the Moon on September 10, 2011 and entered lunar orbit on December 31, 2011 and January 1, 2012.

    As usual, celebratory attire (Hawaiian shirts, bow ties, etc.) is encouraged in honor of the full Moon. As to other celestial events between now and the full Moon after next…

    As September ends and October begins, Mars is low near the horizon after sunset, setting about 2 hours after the Sun, and Saturn even lower, setting about 1 hour after the Sun. As October progresses Saturn will shift lower becoming even harder to see, while Mars will remain low near the southwest horizon. Jupiter rises around 10 pm and is highest in the sky in the morning, around 5:30 am. Venus is the morning star, rising before 4 am and remaining visible even as the sky lightens with dawn.

    Through Saturday, October 6, 2012, for the Washington, DC area at least, the International Space Station is visible for a few minutes most mornings. From Monday October 8 through the full Moon after next, the ISS is visible most evenings. I mention some but not all of the Washington, DC opportunities in the listings below. If you are not in the Washington, DC area, there are a number of websites where you can enter your location and get predictions of when bright satellites and Iridium flashes will be visible; I use <http://www.heavens-above.com/>. If I remember right, Chris Peat started this website for the German Space Agency DLR, then DLR decided it should be spun off as a private rather than a government website.

    Two near-Earth objects (NEOs) will pass within 3 lunar distances of the Earth the last weekend in September. On Saturday, September 27, 2012, the NEO 2012 SL50, estimated to be between 14 and 31 meters across, will pass within 2.8 lunar distances at about 12 kilometers per second. The next day (Sunday, September 28, 2012) the NEO 2012 SY49, estimated to be between 19 and 42 meters across, will pass within 2.6 lunar distances at about 16 kilometers per second. These are the two closest approaches we know about for the remainder of 2012. Although closer than most NEO passes, these will still be too faint to see. For more information on NEOs, visit <http://neo.jpl.nasa.gov/>.

    On Saturday, September 29, 2012, in the early morning, Uranus is at opposition, at its brightest and closest for the year. Saturday evening is the day of the full Moon, so with a telescope or really good, large binoculars you may be able to use the Moon to guide your viewing to this planet, which is too faint to see with the naked eye. Uranus will appear about 4 degrees from the Moon.

    As mentioned above, the next full Moon is in the evening on Saturday, September 29, 2012.

    On Wednesday morning, October 3, 2012, Venus will appear quite close to the bright star Regulus (in the constellation Leo). Venus will appear the brighter of the two, and they will be about a degree apart. For much of the East Coast, the International Space Station will be visible as it passes over in the morning. For the Washington, DC area, it will emerge from the shadow of the Earth low in the west northwest at 6:12:44 am, reach a maximum altitude of 53 degrees above the southwest horizon at 6;15:17 am, and disappear towards the southeast horizon around 6:19 am, all in EDT. Sunrise is not until 7:07 am EDT, so the sky will just be beginning to lighten with dawn when the ISS passes over.

    In the late evening on Friday, October 5, 2012, look for Jupiter and the waning gibbous Moon as they appear near each other. They will be at their closest angular separation when they are not visible, so the closest we will see them is right after they rise in the east northeast (rising at about 10 pm EDT in the Washington, DC area). They will gradually separate as they rise, so that by the time they are at their highest in the sky (around 5:15 am EDT on Sunday, October 6, 2012 for the Washington DC area), the will be about as far apart (but on the opposite side) as they were the morning before (i.e., the morning of Friday, October 5, 2012).

    The Moon will be half full, reaching its third quarter in the morning of Monday, October 8, 2012.

    On Friday morning, October 12, 2012, look to the east for the bright planet Venus and the waning crescent Moon. The Moon will remain bright enough to be seen in daylight, and with binoculars, you can use the Moon to guide you to see Venus in the daylight, about 6 degrees to the upper left from the Moon (be careful to NEVER look at the Sun with binoculars, even accidentally for a moment).

    The new Moon will occur on Monday morning, October 15, 2012.

    On Thursday evening, October 18, 2012, if you have a clear view of the southwestern horizon, look for the waxing crescent Moon, Mars, and the bright star Antares. Mars will be about 6 degrees to the lower right from the Moon, and Antares about 4 degrees to the lower left from Mars. Antares is a reddish colored star, similar in appearance to Mars. In fact, the name Antares comes from this similarity, as Ares is the Greek name for Mars.

    Over the next few days Mars and Antares will shift even closer together, but as they are within 10 degrees of the horizon, you will need a clear view to the southwest to see them.

    The Moon will be half full, reaching its first quarter in the evening of Sunday, October 21, 2012.

    Now that Congress has changed the end of Daylight Savings to the first weekend in November, the latest sunrises of the year occur in late October and early November. For the Washington, DC area, in the midst of winter the Sun rises at 7:27 am EST from December 30, 2012 to January 10, 2013, while sunrise is later than 7:27 am EDT from Thursday morning, October 25 to November 3, 2012. The latest sunrise of the year is at 7:38 am EDT on Saturday morning, November 3, 2012, the day before the switch back to Standard Time. If it seems unusually difficult to wake up in the morning, this provides a plausible (and perhaps even valid) excuse.

    The full Moon after next is on Monday, October 29, 2012.

    Now if you will venture to go along with me, and look down into the bottom of this matter, it will be found that the cause of obscurity and confusion, in the mind of a man, is threefold.

    Dull organs, dear Sir, in the first place. Secondly, slight and transient impressions made by the objects, when the said organs are not dull. And thirdly, a memory like unto a sieve, not able to retain what it has received.

    (Laurence Sterne, “The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gent.” Vol. 1 Chapter XXVII, published in 1759).