My Witt's End

Morning Moonshine

Star Light, Moon Bright


Certainly one of the challenges of having astronomy as a hobby here in northeast Ohio is the weather. Winter skies are often clear—the more exciting for viewing. They can also be bitterly cold.

After plenty of warm, cloudy nights and a nearly planet-less November, then only limited action in December, amateur astronomers have to be ready for anything. The end of January and early February has seen the return of the Big Eight (and the planet formerly known as Pluto), along with some great moon sightings. And the outstanding winter constellations.

This morning was one of those really great opportunities for sky watching. Except for the facts that the temperature was three below zero—and I had to work my day job. Ug.

Heading toward the office an hour or so before sunrise, I could not help but stop along the way and just take in the spectacular scene. Much to the chagrin of a driver behind me (who must have been a banker or something, eager to get to the office and count his money), I pulled off the road opposite an open field. Often we watch Wild Turkeys, Red-tailed Hawks and White-tailed deer feeding there. This morning the field was a sea of shadows tossed haphazardly on the snow by the 18-day-old moon; lopsided and bright—like some people I know.

The view to the southwest showed me that Saturn was leading Luna down the ecliptic path as if he knew where he was going. A couple days earlier they had risen nearly hand-in-hard when she was full and he was in a slightly different orbit. Behind her, off to the southeast, Jupiter, trailed by the warrior Mars, flashed brighter than the traffic helicopter heading off to the morning’s first road disaster. Jupiter’s solid, steady light was a bright, cold blue, belying the plant’s warmer tones when seen through a telescope. I tried to imagine the positions of her four visible moons. Would the great red spot be visible this morning?

Bright Sirius was gone from my sky. I hungered for what the Orion cluster must look like in this clear sky and envied people in the west now looking up.

I read somewhere that the while the moon’s gravity is strong enough to pull oceans out of shape, it really doesn’t have any impact on humans. We’re too small, even though we are mostly water.

Bunk! The longer I stood there in the diminishing moonlight, looking up as more and more stars became visible to my widening pupils, the stronger I could feel Luna’s seductive pull, her whisper encouraging me to move in the opposite direction of my office.

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