Thursday, December 31, 2009

Blue Moon (tonight)!

Tonight will be, the first "Blue Moon" (occurring on a 'New Year's Eve') since 1990, but don't hope to see the moon in shades of "navy", or any other color for that matter. A 'blue moon' is a creation of folklore," because it's simply a chronological, second full moon within a calendar month.

The 'blue moon' myth adds to a host of misconceptions about our lunar neighbor. Among the more interesting things to ponder as you gaze skyward (weather permitting), at the not-blue, 'blue moon'...

There is no "dark side" of the moon. There is, however, a "far side" that we can't see, because as the moon goes around the Earth once, and spins on its axis once (all in the same amount of time), it thus reveals but one surface of (always) the same face - when viewed from the surface of the Earth.

There is no scientific evidence that the full moon affects human behavior. Reliable studies comparing the lunar phases to births, heart attacks, deaths, suicides, violence, psychiatric hospital admissions and epileptic seizures have found little or no connection.

The moon is moving away from Earth. It's drifting out into space by about 1.6 inches (4 centimeters), per year - about 10 feet during an average lifetime!

The moon is never really full. It is illuminated by reflected sunlight. So for the face of the moon to be 100 percent lit from our point of view, Earth would have to be exactly between the sun and the moon. But when that happens, an eclipse occurs as the moon falls behind the shadow of the Earth.

Speaking of eclipses - skywatchers in Europe, Africa, and Asia will have a chance to see a partial lunar eclipse tonight. A distinct but modest scallop of darkness will be visually carved from the moon. A bite of 'blue cheese', perhaps?

And so it is.

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