I love full moons. They look a little too perfect to be one of nature’s essential elements and too large for the vast universe that surrounds them. Yet there they are, perched silently above the horizon every month or so, beckoning to be plucked out of the night sky.
We had a full moon last Friday and the next will be in mid-October. But September’s stands alone, as it is rises closest on the calendar to the “Autumnal Equinox”. It signals the end of the longer summer days, earning the nickname “Harvest Moon”.
The Autumnal Equinox (AE) takes place on September 22nd. In fact, I timed the publishing of this post to the exact minute of the AE: 8:21am MDT. The AE is the instance the earth’s axis is exactly perpendicular to its rotational axis around the sun. When the axis is straight up and down you have equal amounts of “day” and “night” in that twenty-four hours. That’s a pretty cool slice of astronomy.
As long as we’re in the classroom, the AE also signals the transition from summer to fall in this part of the world. Yet anywhere in the earth’s Southern Hemisphere the AE signals the transition from winter to spring. That fact brings a moment of confusion when you consider the Summer Olympics were just hosted in Brazil, doesn’t it? At least they had a full moon last Friday, same as everywhere else.
Growing up in a narrow winding canyon, a full moon was a rare sight. Back then I should’ve thought to wake up in the middle of the night, stand out on the lawn, and stare straight up into the sky to see one. Maybe I saw a few fulls when I was camping in the Boy Scouts. Or maybe I just remember them from several of the animated Peanuts specials. (Charles Schultz was a fan of full moons. Just watch “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” next month on TV; or “Snoopy, Come Home” on NetFlix).
As much as I enjoyed our Harvest Moon, it turns out I have an even bigger lunar event around the corner. On November 14th we get a “Super Full Moon”. A Super is the one full moon each year where the orbit of the moon is closest to the center of the earth. So the Harvest may be big but the Super should be astronomic!
No discussion of full moons would be complete without a nod to the “Blue Moon”. They say, “once in a blue moon”, and that means not very often. A Blue is a second instance of a full moon in a calendar month. There were no Blue Moons in 2016 (except the several I purchased for my own consumption of course).
Thankfully I no longer live in a narrow winding canyon but instead in wide open spaces. No fulls can slip by me anymore. And I assure you, on that Tuesday in November the week before Thanksgiving, I’ll be hanging out in my family room window at dusk gazing east into the sky. My Super will be on the rise.
Note: Portions of this post are credited to the research found at timeanddate.com.