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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Autumn Equinox and Harvest Moon


According to the Farmer's Almanac the month of September belongs to Jupiter. Jupiter shines at its brightest on Sept. 21st and this close visit can easily be seen even without a telescope. The article below is from another site. Read on for a fascinating little lesson. A great reason to take the time to go outside at night and really study the night sky.

The action begins at sunset on Sept 22nd, the last day of northern summer. As the sun sinks in the west, bringing the season to a close, the full Harvest Moon will rise in the east, heralding the start of fall. The two sources of light will mix together to create a kind of 360-degree, summer-autumn twilight glow that is only seen on rare occasions.

Keep an eye on the moon as it creeps above the eastern skyline. The golden orb may appear strangely inflated. This is the Moon illusion at work. For reasons not fully understood by astronomers or psychologists, a low-hanging Moon appears much wider than it really is. A Harvest Moon inflated by the moon illusion is simply gorgeous.

The view improves as the night wears on.

Northern summer changes to fall on Sept. 22nd at 11:09 pm EDT. At that precise moment, called the autumnal equinox, the Harvest Moon can be found soaring high overhead with the planet Jupiter right beside it. The two brightest objects in the night sky will be in spectacular conjunction to mark the change in seasons.

The Harvest Moon gets its name from agriculture. In the days before electric lights, farmers depended on bright moonlight to extend the workday beyond sunset. It was the only way they could gather their ripening crops in time for market. The full Moon closest to the autumnal equinox became "the Harvest Moon," and it was always a welcome sight.

This one would be extra welcome because it is extra "Harvesty."

Usually, the Harvest Moon arrives a few days to weeks before or after the beginning of fall. It's close, but not a perfect match. The Harvest Moon of 2010, however, reaches maximum illumination a mere six hours after the equinox. This has led some astronomers to call it the "Harvestest Moon" or a "Super Harvest Moon." There hasn't been a comparable coincidence since Sept 23, 1991, when the difference was about 10 hours, and it won't happen again until the year 2029.

A Super Harvest , a rare twilight glow, a midnight conjunction—rarely does autumn begin with such celestial fanfare.

Enjoy the show!

Provided by Science@NASA

I find it fascinating to understand why people did the things they did. The gathering of the harvest before the cold sets in was critical for survival. Remember the fable about the grasshopper who figured he'd worry about tomorrow when tomorrow came and dilly dallied while the ant worked nonstop preparing for the approaching winter. When cold weather settled in the grasshopper had few supplies while the ant was tucked away with plenty of food in storage.

Many of us learned about "getting our work done before play" as well as "everything in moderation" from that little story. Should the ant be expected to share with the grasshopper with the hopes he learned his lesson? Is "all work and no play" always such a bad thing? So many great topics for a group discussion.

With everything we need at the nearest supermarket it is easy to get away with irresponsible behavior, poor planning, and self-discipline. I suppose one can get away with it as long as there is a regular paycheck and the interconnecting system of our society doesn't fail. Can you imagine if a few cogs in the wheel would just stop. If we couldn't get fuel for transportation, if electricity would no longer be available. Would the average household know how to use alternative means to stay warm or get to water or even make a loaf of bread?

Those self-sustaining people of the past worked right into the moon lit night to get everything done in time before cold set in. Even if we are thankful we don't have to work so physically hard these days it would be nice to have such knowledge stored away along with the canned foods.