Butler County Times Gazette
  • Looking Up: Picturing the moon

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  • All this week the moon hangs bright in the evening sky, adding to the beauty over our heads. Full moon is on Monday, Sept. 8. This is the “harvest moon,” so named when farmers of yesteryear relied on the moonlight to give them more time to bring their crops in.
    The full moon of September is often considered the harvest moon, but because harvest moon is usually defined as the full moon closest to the September equinox (first day of autumn), that title is bestowed on this full moon. This is about the latest that a harvest moon can happen, being two weeks from the equinox.
    Artists have long captured the lovely full moon on canvas with its soft light caressing the night landscape and clouds.
    It is a sure sign real astronomy takes a back seat, however, when you see a crescent moon pictured with a star between its sharp cusps! Such a sight is impossible because the crescent is only that part of the solid ball of rock we call the moon, which is lit with sunlight. The darker portion of the moon is still there, blocking any stars behind it! That should seem obvious, but it is amazing how often this error shows up in drawings.
    Also take note which way the crescent moon is pointing in a drawing. The crescent is always facing the sun - the source of light. So if the sun is set, the crescent will appear in the western sky, pointing at some angle down towards the horizon where the sun has set. If it is shown the opposite way, like a mirror image, the picture is either incorrect, or is depicting a morning crescent aimed at the rising sun. If the crescent is facing upwards and the sky shows it is night with stars, then we really have a problem. That implies the sun is higher yet in the sky beyond the picture, and if the sky is dark with stars, that means we have no atmosphere!
    OK, I’m on a roll. When you see the moon in a photograph with a landscape or by itself, look to see how the dark plains- the "maria" on the lunar surface that make up the familiar Man in the Moon face are positioned. What angle the face is shown will reveal either it is another careless mistake, or where on the Earth you are viewing the moon. If the face is "upside down" from what we in the northern hemisphere are used to seeing, the moon is being pictured from "Down Under" below the equator - or the artist applied no science. Far worse but very often seen, is the moon totally backward - a mirror image.
    Especially sad is in this age of scientific advancement, we sometimes see a photograph of the moon taken by the Apollo astronauts from an angle impossible to view from Earth, yet it is presented as what we see in the sky.
    Page 2 of 2 - The apparent size of the moon in most drawings is usually greatly exaggerated, though it may look romantic. If the moon were as close as some artists picture, the tides would be high indeed and Old Luna would be speeding by much more quickly. You also would not need a telescope to see the craters.
    Far better is the actual view of the moon. Go out an look up the next clear night, even if you have no optical aid. Imagine that people all over the world where it is night, are seeing the same moon. They may be seeing it at all sorts of different orientations, depending on where on the sphere of the Earth they live, but it is our same faithful satellite.
    The view in a small telescope of the lunar surface will fill you with awe and have your neighbors lining up for a look if they know you’re out. One time the writer saw a flock of geese heading south - visible as a silhouette against the moon - in his telescope. The whole V-formation was visible within the moon, so the geese must have flying high.
    Notes are invited at news@neagle.com.
    Keep looking up!
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