Friday, September 24, 2010

A Harvest Moon, and Jupiter in the Sky's of L.A.

Harvest Moon



Jupiter & Uranus

"Oh, Shine on, shine on harvest moon
Up in the sky;
I ain't had no lovin'
Since January, February, June or July.

- Nora Bayes and Jack Norworth

I didn't mean to do it, but I saw it and it was done.
Yesterday morning.
At a twidge before 4:00AM my alarm clock sounded. As is my custom, I leaped (leaped) out of bed, rushed across my expansive box and shut it off. I then proceeded with my usual morning activities. I let out Herkimer, my six foot three and three quarter inch tall invisible orange tabby cat, turned "The Bill Press Show," on my radio, made myself an Expresso Royale Caffe (because I'm an elitist) to get the old juices flowing, posted the day's post "Health Care in Autumn" ("Well written Rick." "Why thank you."), showered, worked through a mixture of calisthenics and yoga (including 2000 rapid no hands sit-ups to keep my washboard six-pack rock hard abs in tip top shape. You never know when you're going to need them), meditated for 400 breaths, took another shower, let Herkimer back in, checked my Email to see any emergency messages that may have arrived during the night (there never are any), dressed, put on my galoshes, then headed out for a morning stroll over the famous 6th Street Bridge.
It was still very dark outside as I left my hotel, it being a little after 5:30. Trucks were busy loading and unloading their goods across the street. Traffic was light. The air crisp but not too chilly. I wore a light jacket which was enough considering I'd be generating a considerable amount of body heat while walking.
It takes anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour to walk over the bridge, all the way to the east side into the Boyle Heights section of East Los Angeles (where Cheech Marin came from) and back to my nice warm box. There was nothing different about the morning. I walked, looking around as I usually do, noting those people who had already began their work day below me, walking and working around large and small factory like buildings on the east side of the Los Angeles River. A Metro Link train rushed past on its way to Union Station. I stopped once to look back at the L.A. skyline... beautiful. Cars and trucks zipped past where the Hollywood, San Bernardino, and Santa Ana Freeways merge, everybody rushing to work it seemed.
Beyond my conscious observations of what was transpiring around me, I absent mindedly thought about what I should write about during the day. The Millennium Development Goals, or the Republicans "Contract on America" (term coined by Randi Rhodes) that had leaked out the day before. I got off the bridge, passed the automated Laundromat and donut shop, crossed the street, and headed back to Los Angeles.
I made it about half way over the bridge before looking at the sky directly in front of me.
"Ahhh, that's Jupiter," I said to myself, with not a small amount of awe.
And indeed it was Jupiter.
In front of me, low in the early morning sky was a huge, orange full moon. Just below it and to the left from my position, looked to be a very bright star, but I knew it wasn't a star. I wouldn't be able to see a star so low in the sky (it was just above my visible horizon) just before sunrise. And I knew Jupiter was at it's closest distance to the Earth at this time, because I can sense when it's near to me.
I also knew that it could be seen near the moon's position, because the Internets machine had told me so. But I hadn't thought about it before leaving for my walk, so the sight of the two astronomical bodies was somewhat of a pleasant surprise, to say the least.
What I didn't know at the time was this was a very special sight... a once in a lifetime thing to see.
And you know what that sight is, dear readers, because the post that precedes this one was a short notice explaining the rare celestial vision so you could see it yourselves last night, which I hope you had the opportunity to do. I had to send my lovely case manger, Erin, a special Email with this information because she rarely reads the blog anymore because she's so busy and all, and I didn't want her to miss it.
"Thanks rick," she replied, being too busy to use her "shift" key when typing my name.
But I digress.
What I was looking at is referred to as a Harvest Moon (or some call it a Wine Moon, or Singing Moon and an Elk Call Moon. I don't know why). A Harvest Moon is the first full moon closest to the Autumn Equinox, which we've already learned in the post, "Health Care in Autumn," is when "the tilt of the Earth's axis matched that of the Sun's center, or our equator aligned itself with the orbital plane our planet travels in around the sun, which means both hemispheres, the northern and southern, were receiving the same amount of energy from our star, and the days and nights are about the same length of time." This happens twice a year. The Vernal Equinox marks the passage of Winter to Spring, and the Autumn Equinox, which occurred Wednesday night at 8:09PM my time, marks the passage of Summer into Autumn, or the Fall.
Now Wednesday night/Thursday morning's full moon appeared just 5 1/2 hours after the equinox, which made that full moon a Harvest Moon which occurred on the same night as the equinox, which hadn't happened since 1991, and won't happen again until 2029, which was pretty cool in itself.
The moon looked really bright and big. That's due to two factors. First the reflected white light that bounces off the Moon's surface and arrives in my eyeball has to travel through thicker layers of the Earth's atmosphere when it is low in the sky near the horizon, which it was when I saw it on the bridge. The atmosphere scatters the blue part of the sunlight while allowing the red part to travel in a straighter line to my eye, so I see it as being rather orange in color.
It looked really big in the sky directly above 6th Street apparently due to an optical illusion which happens whenever a celestial object is viewed when it is low in the sky, or near the horizon. No one knows why. Our brains are just silly that way.
Now Jupiter was making it's closest approach to the Earth in the last 47 years. It was a mere 390,682,810 miles away (it can be as far as 576,682,810 miles). It hasn't been closer since 1963, and won't be this close again until 2022. It will be shining brightly in our sky, and can be seen until the third week of October.
Between now and December Jupiter and the planet Uranus are traveling close together as seen from the Earth. Now the distance from the Earth to Uranus is much greater. On average Uranus is about 1.78 billion miles away from us. Accordingly, and due to it's current position in it's orbit, Uranus is much harder to see than Jupiter is. You would need some binoculars to see it. But it's there!
Now what made my sighting a once in a lifetime event, as I explained in yesterday's post, is that three things happened that will not happen again in mine, or your lifetime (unless death is cured in the next 30 or 40 years). The full Harvest Moon will shine all night long. The planet Jupiter will also. And lastly, they are doing it on the equinox. September 2010 presents the only time in our lifetime that we will be able to witness the moon and Jupiter’s simultaneous all-night appearance on the equinox. (I'm trying to find out when this will happen again, and when I do I'll be sure to let you know).
I don't know about you dear readers, but any once in a lifetime event to me is pretty darn cool.
And much better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.
Here's to all of us making it to the next Harvest Moon on the equinox! See you in 2029!
You too Erin.

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