The Summer Solstice

Keeping bees makes one more aware of the Wheel of the Year.

bee summer solstice

The 2013 Summer Solstice occurs at 1:04 am EDT on Friday, June 21st.  It’s the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere.

A solstice is an astronomical event that occurs twice each year as the Sun reaches its highest or lowest point relative to the celestial equator on the celestial sphere.

The Summer Solstice is also referred to as Midsummer’s Eve. It’s an important holiday in much of the Northern Hemisphere, and was very important to many ancient cultures.

While the cultural symbols associated with the Summer Solstice vary between different cultures, the Solstice has always been a significant day in the Wheel of the Year.

The general themes associated with the Solstice are fertility, fire, celebration, healing, and magic. Many of the celebrations were accompanied by large bonfires (especially on shorelines), feasting, singing, dancing, and the gathering of medicinal/magic plants.

summer-solstice-fire--sommersonnenwendfeuer-franziska-marie-orbach

The Solstice is thought to be the time “when the forces of nature are at their most powerful, and the boundaries between the physical and spiritual worlds are thinnest.” The term used in modern times — solstice — is derived from the Latin words sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still).

If you stand inside the Stonehenge monument on the day of the northern Summer Solstice, facing northeast through the entrance towards a rough hewn stone outside the circle – known as the Heel Stone – you will see the sun rise above the Heel Stone, as illustrated in the image below.

Stonehenge_heel_stone

The REAL Pink Full Moon …

pink moon

Last month I mistakenly posted that the March full moon was the pink one. I was wrong. 😦

Here is a great article from the Huffington Post about tomorrow night’s “Planetary Event!!”

By: Joe Rao

Published: 04/22/2013 06:32 PM EDT on SPACE.com

This month’s full moon, which falls on Thursday (April 25), always reminds me of one of the first times I viewed the April full moon

When I was very young boy living in New York, there was a popular television weathercaster by the name of Carol Reed. While not a meteorologist, she had an upbeat personality and always finished her reports with what became her personal catch phrase: “And have a happy!”

One evening, Carol commented that it would be clear for everyone to get a good view of that night’s “pink” full moon. When it got dark, my mother accompanied me outside expecting to see a salmon-colored moon, but all we saw was a full moon that looked the way it always did: yellowish-white with not a hint of pink.

While I don’t recall the year of this episode, I can state most definitely that it took place in the month of April, since many years later I learned that traditionally the full moon of April is called the “pink moon,” a reference made to the grass pink or wild ground phlox which is one of the earliest widespread flowers of the spring season. [How 2013’s Full Moons Got Their Peculiar Names]

So on Thursday night, when you look skyward at this year’s version of the “pink” April full moon, remember not to take the term literally!

A bit of an eclipse

While this month’s full moon may not look pink, if you live in Europe, Africa or much of Asia, you will notice something a bit different about it, because it will take place on the night of a lunar eclipse.

Unfortunately, in North America, none of this eclipse will be visible, since the actual instant of full moon occurs on Thursday afternoon (April 25), when the moon is below the horizon.

Beginning at 2:04 p.m. EDT (1804 GMT), the moon begins to meet the Earth’s shadow; a little over two hours later it arrives under the middle of that shadow. By then the moon will have just risen and will be visible low to the east-southeast horizon as seen from Ireland, and will be setting over south-central Japan in the morning hours of Friday, April 26.

Feeble at best

If we were to rank a total eclipse of the moon as a first-rate event, then what is scheduled to be seen on Thursday for those living in the Eastern Hemisphere would almost certainly fall into the third- or even fourth-rate category; in fact it might add new meaning to the term “underwhelming.”

During the first 110-minutes of the eclipse, the moon’s northern hemisphere pushes ever-so-gradually into the Earth’s partial shadow, called the penumbra. The outer two-thirds of this are too subtle to detect; but then perhaps by 3:30 p.m. EDT (1920 GMT) you may realize you are beginning to detect the ever-so-slight gradient of a soft grey darkening around the top of the moon.

At 3:54 p.m. EDT (1954 GMT), the moon’s northern limb finally makes contact with a much more abrupt shadow, the blackish-brown umbra. This chord of shadow on the moon grows and retreats over a span of less than half an hour; yet at its deepest at 4:07 p.m. EDT (2007 GMT), the partial eclipse will reach its peak at a puny 1.48 percent as the moon’s northern (upper) limb literally grazes the umbral shadow and remains in contact with it until 4:21 p.m. EDT (2021 GMT).

This dark shadow’s coverage can be described as feeble at best. To the unaided eye, even to those with acute visual skills, it will hardly cause a perceptible dent on the lunar disk. However, anyone who glances up at the moon around that time will likely notice that the uppermost part of the disk of the moon will appear smudged or tarnished. This effect will probably fade away by around 5 p.m. EDT (2100 GMT), with the moon appearing as its normal self. Officially, though, the moon will not completely free itself from the outer penumbral shadow until 6:11 p.m. EDT (2211 GMT).

In spite of the fact that this isn’t much of an eclipse, I suspect that more than a few skywatchers across the big pond will still take time out to watch it. That is, after all what a true amateur astronomer is: patient, undemanding, and willing to accept even the smallest crumbs from the star tables.

Oh — and have a happy!

The Full Wolf Moon

full wolf moon

The Full Wolf Moon, the first full moon of 2013, will light up the night sky tonight (Jan. 26) at 11:38 p.m. EST.

According the the Farmers Almanac, full moon names date back to Native American tribes of a few hundred years ago who lived in what is now the northern and eastern United States. Those tribes kept track of the seasons by giving distinctive names to each recurring full moon.

The Farmers Almanac states that Indians named the first moon of the year the Full Wolf Moon because of the wolf packs that howled hungrily outside their villages in the heart of winter.  It is also called the Old Moon or the Moon after Yule.

Other sources disagree and allege that “Full Wolf Moon” comes from the ancient Scottish Gaelic word for January, Faoilleach, which means “wolf month”.

Whatever the derivation, few would disagree that Full Wolf Moon is a good name for the moon that illuminates the frosty white nights of midwinter.

Full Cold Moon

December full cold moon

December’s Full Moon is called the Full Cold Moon. It is the month when the winter cold fastens its grip and the nights become long and dark.

This full Moon is also called the Long Nights Moon by some Native American tribes.

Your calendar probably says tomorrow (Friday, December 28) is the date for the last full moon of 2012. But, for North America, the full moon comes before sunrise tomorrow. So, for us, the moon is closer to full tonight than tomorrow night. Need the exact time of full moon? It’s Friday, December 28 at 10:21 UTC (5:21 a.m. EST, 4:21 a.m. CST, 3:21 a.m. MST and 2:21 a.m. PST). Seeing a bright object in the moon’s vicinity? It’s Jupiter.

This Full Moon will inspire us all with dreams for the coming year!

Once In A Blue Moon

I love full moons!

For some reason they are very difficult to photograph. In this picture, the moon looks tiny, but to my naked eye it was huge!

August 2012 is a month with two full moons –  the first full moon is August 1 and the second full moon is August 31.

By one definition, the second moon in a month is called a Blue Moon.

However, there are two more definitions for Blue Moon. It can be the third of four full moons in a single season. Or it can be an actual blue-colored moon.

It’s very rare that you would see a blue-colored moon, although unusual sky conditions – certain-sized particles of dust or smoke – can create them. Blue-colored moons aren’t predictable. So don’t be misled by the photo above. The sorts of moons people commonly call Blue Moons aren’t usually blue.

Every month has a full moon, and, most of the time, the names for full moons coincide with particular months or seasons of the year. By either definition, the name Blue Moon accounts for times when there happen to be more full moons than is usual.

Blue moon as second full moon in a month. In recent decades, many people have begun using the name Blue Moon to describe the second full moon of a calendar month.

The time between one full moon and the next is close to the length of a calendar month. So the only time one month can have two full moons is when the first full moon happens in the first few days of the month. This happens every 2-3 years, so these sorts of Blue Moons come about that often.

When is the next Blue Moon, according to this first definition? August 31, 2012.

The idea of a Blue Moon as the second full moon in a month stemmed from the March 1946 issue of Sky and Telescope magazine, which contained an article called “Once in a Blue Moon” by James Hugh Pruett. Pruett was using a 1937 Maine Farmer’s Almanac, but he simplified the definition. He wrote:

Seven times in 19 years there were — and still are — 13 full moons in a year. This gives 11 months with one full moon each and one with two. This second in a month, so I interpret it, was called Blue Moon.

Can there be two blue moons in a single calendar year? Yes. It last happened in 1999. There were two full moons in January and two full moons in March and no full moon in February. So both January and March had Blue Moons.

The next year of double blue moons is coming up in 2018.

Blue moon as third full moon of four in a season. The Old Farmer’s Almanac defined a Blue Moon as an extra full moon that occurred in a season. One season – winter, spring, fall, summer – typically has three full moons. If a season has four full moons, then the third full moon may be called a Blue Moon.

The next blue moon by this definition will fall on August 21, 2013.

In recent years, a controversy has raged – mainly among purists – about which Blue Moon definition is better. The idea of a Blue Moon as the third of four in a season may be older than the idea of a Blue Moon as the second full moon in a month. Is it better? Is one definition right and the other wrong? After all, this is folklore. So the folk get to decide, and, in the 21st century, both sorts of full moons have been called Blue.

So enjoy the Blue Moon on August 31st!