The Full Moon Post 1.5 – October 2014, Eclipse Tricks and Fortnight-It’s a Thing.

So….two Full Moon posts in one month? Well it’s actually appropriate as in my previous Full Moon post I touched on the lunar eclipse and the “rare” selenelion that occurred on October 8th. But as far as the month of October goes, that wasn’t the full extent of the moon and sun’s celestial dance.

I know, you’re probably tired of hearing about orbital geometries in my posts by now, but in truth they explain the continuous rhythms of the two biggest acts in our sky’s showcase because like everything in nature, eclipses follow a rule of cycles.  Yes, while it may seem that the varied differences in the orbits of the earth around the sun and the moon around the Earth would generate an eclipse schedule of complete randomness, they actually occur in a set pattern, a pattern that is dictated by the length of their orbit and the angles in which they all occur. Let’s take a basic look.

First we have the saros, an almost two decade time span to us that is nothing more than the blink of an eye in the cosmic scale.  A saros is approximately 6585.3 days and marks the time it takes for the sun, Earth and moon to return to almost the exact same point relative to each other, that they started from at any given moment.  This means that if there is a lunar or solar eclipse on any given day, the exact eclipse will occur 18 years and 11 1/3 days later (although it will not be visible from the same location on Earth each time).  These identical eclipses are referred to as an ‘eclipse cycle‘ of which there are many, each having its own number, and are used to predicate and monitor eclipses by scientists all over the world.

On a smaller scale we have the synodic month, or 29.53 days (average, nothing is absolutely perfect as far as these things are concerned), the amount of time it takes for the moon to circle the Earth in one orbit.  This quick trip around our planet is significant in the scheme of eclipses because the apparent angle of the orbit of the moon differs from that of our sun by a mere 5 degrees at their widest, which isn’t a lot it grand scheme of the cosmos, but it’s enough to have them skirt above or below each other for most of their orbits.


But at certain times the moon’s orbital plane crosses that of the sun’s at points called nodes, and these are the times when eclipses occur. If the moon is moving down across the orbital plane of the sun it is called the descending node, the opposite node, when the moon travels back up through the sun’s plane is called the ascending. This is a rather oversimplification of the whole eclipse process, as there are other variables involved, but its enough to give a basic understanding as to why we don’t see eclipses at every full moon (lunar) or new moon (solar) occurrence.

So while the fact that it takes the moon a mere 29.52 days to circle the Earth is an important constant in the equation of the eclipse cycle, it is a very important component in another phenomenon – eclipses are linked.

The time it takes the moon to go from one spot in its orbit to the complete opposite point is one half of a synodic month, called a fortnight (14.77 solar days). Yeah, that’s right, a fortnight isn’t just for you English Literature majors, it’s an actual thing.   This means that the time it takes for the moon to go from full to new is fast enough so that the moon and the sun do not have time to, planarly speaking – get out of each others way. This results in a solar eclipse one fortnight after almost all lunar eclipses, the solar eclipse always happening in the opposite node from the one the lunar eclipse occurred in.

Such is the case this month, when the moon travels half way around the Earth from our recent Oct  8th lunar eclipse in the descending node for another rendezvous in our sky with the sun on Oct 23rd in the ascending. On that day, the moon’s passage between the Earth and the sun will give a large portion of North America a nice glimpse at a partial eclipse. The eclipse is partial due to the fact that center of the moon’s shadow (where a total eclipse can be seen) glances over our planet’s northern most point, which means the eclipse is not visible in the Southern hemisphere or in Europe where it’s night time. Unfortunately not everyone in North America is equally as lucky when it comes to this eclipse.

Just like the lunar eclipse earlier this month, this solar eclipse will be diving quickly out of the sky for most of us on the east coast. In fact, for those of us around Wilmington maximum eclipse occurs directly at sunset at 6:10pm, a mere 18 minutes after the moon first touches the solar disk. Sadly, many on the extreme east coast (like Boston) will be out of luck as the Earth’s shadow won’t make it there before the sun slips below the horizon.

So is this the best trick the moon and the sun have to offer?  Of course not. On rare occasions, an eclipse alignment happens so that a whole synodic month can occur before the nodal alignment is broken.  When this happens, we get three eclipses in a synodic month, each a fortnight after the previous.  The next time this happens is 2018 with a partial solar eclipse(A) on July 13, and total lunar(D) on July 27, and the cycle ending with a partial solar(A) on August 11th.  After that you’ll have to wait until 2020, when two penumbral lunar eclipses (June 5th and July 5th, both descending) bracket an annular solar eclipse(A) on June 21.

A solar eclipse on the summer equinox?  I can’t wait to see all that doomsday hysteria!

Time for another beer…

THE FINAL SIP: Wish I could get my hands on a few of the Eclipse Imperial Stouts from FiftyFifty Brewing Company to enjoy during the upcoming eclipse.  From their website – At first taste there is a large presence of dark chocolate, espresso and warmth from the alcohol of the beer. Oak barrel character then comes into play with hints of vanilla and coconut, followed by mild bitterness from the hops, and then a nice long lingering finish with hints of tobacco, dark dried fruit and more chocolate. Eclipse is a wonderful companion with dessert. A beer meant for contemplation best enjoyed in a snifter and with a friend. Brewed in small 300 gallons batches, our brewers lovingly craft this masterpiece once a year.

The Full Moon Post – October 2014, The Blood Moon, Total Lunar Eclipse and Selenelion.

Love, Love, Love, October.  It’s a collection of natural events and observances that just speak to me.  The days are getting a little cooler, as well as shorter, the night sky is getting clearer, and at the end of the month we observe a time when the veil between this world and the next lifts, allowing spirits from the other side to cross over. But equally important to me, October is the beginning of the return of the full moon in all her glory.

As dusk arrives earlier and earlier, it affords the opportunity for the night sky’s biggest player to once again take center stage. Summer moons are good but with sunset not until well after 8pm here in Delaware it doesn’t give a lot of time to truly enjoy them. But there’s something herald-like about a fall moon, as if it all by itself it is solely responsible for the proclamation of the oncoming of the winter seasons. The reason is simple orbital geometry.

Just as the sun makes ever varying paths across our sky between the two solstices, so does our moon.  In fact, the moon is locked in a never ending dance of “seasonal balance” with the sun, their two paths in constant opposition.  In the Summer time, when the sun is high in the sky the moon’s path is quite low, to the point that it’s so close to the horizon in June that it deepens in color, thus lending to the nick name “Honey Moon”.

But as fall approaches and the sun slowly slides down the celestial sphere the moon’s path rises, making it more and more predominant in the night sky, rising earlier – setting later.  While it’s the receding sun that largely declares the arrival of fall during the day, it’s the increasing moon at night that affirms that fact.

And this year, the October moon brings in the fall months with a big show.  The moon reaches the point in its orbit called the syzygy (when it’s exactly 180 degrees away from the sun’s disk) tomorrow morning (the 8th) at 6:51am.  Yep, the Full Moon Post is a day early this month but there’s a good reason.

Tomorrow also marks the 2nd total lunar eclipse of the year, and 2nd of 4 total eclipses throughout 2014-2015.  Normally this would be a big deal, except that the geometries at play are working against us a bit this time.  The area in which the eclipse is visible from start to finish, covers most of the Pacific ocean with partial visibility either at moon rise or moon set falling on either side.

What that means to us here on the east coast near Delaware is that the moon will enter the darkest part of the Earth’s shadow at 5:18am and slide fully into it at 6:27am.  Maximum totality (when the moon is closest to the center of Earth’s shadow) occurs at 6:55 with the moon setting 6 only minutes later.

Yes, sadly we don’t get to see the back half of the eclipse when the moon begins its journey out of darkness.  But because the moon sets at 7:01am and the sun rises at 7:05am we get a chance to witness an event that is rare to any specific location on the Earth – selenelion. A selenelion occurs when the sun and an eclipsed moon (a lot of articles about this eclipse are indicating that this name only applies when the lunar eclipse is a total one, but that’s not the case) appear in the sky at the same time, an occurrence that due to the fact that they are 180 degrees apart on the celestial sphere, actually can’t happen.

But as I explained in my recent review of Seirra Nevada’s Equinox, there’s a huge trick at play here.  Because of the way light from the sun and the moon are refracted through Earth’s atmosphere when they’re both close to the horizon, they’ll both appear simultaneously in the sky for a brief period of time before the moon finally slips out of view. This alignment happens somewhere on the Earth during any lunar eclipse, but not always at a location from which it is visible, and infrequently enough at any single given location on Earth to be considered uncommon.  Add to that fact that this one occurs during a total eclipse and it certainly would seem to warrant the description of “rare”.

The eclipse also changes another aspect of the moon this month – the name.  While normally referred to as the Hunter’s Moon; because of the reddish color it will take on during the total eclipse many people will refer to it as a Blood Moon, although to be honest this moniker is normally used for the October moon in certain aspects of paganism.

So besides this “rare” event what else does October hold?  Well as I write this the people of the Jewish faith have already celebrated Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. They now are getting ready to start the seven day (sometimes 8 day) festival of Sukkot on October 9th, which is the last Pilgrimage Festival of the year. Due to differences between the Islamic lunar calendar when compared to our current Gregorian solar calendar, the Islamic New Year moves around greatly. But this year it falls on October 24/25.

And of course there’s Samhain, a Gaelic festival and the penultimate festival in the modern pagan Wheel of the Year.  It marks the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. Of course, here in the US, it is more commonly referred to as Halloween, and is celebrated with ghoulishly costumed visitors descending on your house in search of treats.

So what’s a good activity for craft beer lovers to do during this particular time of the year? Well I use it to channel my inner “Halloween haunter” and drink any beers I can get my hands on that have a Halloween style theme.  Rogue’s Dead Guy is a frequent visitor to my refrigerator this time of year, as well as beers from Wytchwood Brewery and the Day of the Dead line (more on those in a later post); as well as several others.

Just make sure you have plenty left over for after all the kids have returned to their own haunted houses.  Light a bonfire away from your house (to encourage spirits to move towards the fire and thus pass by the house), allow the veil to lift around you, and enjoy the calming quiet of the night of the dead.  Perhaps you’ll even be contacted by some spirits from your own past.

Time for another beer.

Grittys Halloween Ale
The Final Sip: Halloween themed beers are easy to find if you search around. Like this great example from the fine folks at Gritty McDuffs.




%d bloggers like this: