If you follow me on twitter, you know I love to muse about the Moon. The Moon can be metaphor or quiet companion. There is comfort in watching the Moon’s monthly cycle slowly unfold. All of my moon-gazing brought questions along with it. I suppose I could have consulted NASA for the answers, but what would be the fun in that? Instead, I looked skyward, right to the source. I call it my Moon Experiment, but don’t worry. The experiment is observational only.
First, a little background, for context:
- The Moon is represented as nocturnal, like all night’s creatures. What would owls and coyotes be without a Moon as a backdrop?
- We forget that the Moon appears in the daytime too. Even as its brightness is lost in the sunlight, the Daytime Moon can be inspiring. Each time I see it, I am reminded not to be limited by expectations.
- Each month, the Moon seems to disappear for about a week or two. More nights are moon-less than can be explained by the New Moon. Where is the Moon during these dark nights?
- The Full Moon is on the opposite side of the Earth as the Sun
- The New Moon is on the same side of the Earth as the Sun. We cannot see the New Moon because the dark side of the Moon is facing us. Even so, we would have difficulty looking at the New Moon because it would require looking toward the Sun! A way to think about the New Moon is that it rises and sets with the Sun, and is directly above us at noon!
In my experiment, I sought the answer to two questions.
Question 1: The Moon has incredible periodicity. How can I predict the Moon’s position each night?
To answer this, my thought experiment went as follows:
- A day has 24 hours
- The circumference of the Earth is about 25,000 miles around at the equator
- Therefore, the Earth spins about 1000 miles per hour at the equator
Adding the Moon to our equations:
- The Moon travels around the Earth about once every 27 days (this is the basis of a month, or a moonth!)
- Using the above numbers, we can estimate that the Moon must change its position by about 1000 equator-miles per day in order to make it all the way around the Earth in one lunar month (~25000 equator-miles in 27 days ≈ 1000 equator-miles per day)
- A daily off-set of ~1000 equator-miles is equivalent to a change in the Moon’s peak by about an hour each day
More simply stated, the Moon rises and sets about an hour later each day. To see this for yourself, look up at the evening sky at the same time each day starting at the Half-Moon phase, and notice that the Moon rises later. Look up again an hour later, and the Moon will be in the same place it was the night before.
I empirically tested this hypothesis over the course of the last month, and my thought experiment held up to observation. After I was convinced I was right, I googled and confirmed this is true. Multiple sources state the Moon rises and sets 50 minutes later each day. Now I can look at the sky and know the position of the Moon based on the previous night’s position!
So, we understand the Moon’s patterns a bit more. What about those extra moon-less nights? What about the Daytime Moon?
Question 2: When does the Daytime Moon appear, and why does the Moon seem to disappear for a week or two each month when the New Moon period is much shorter?
My thought experiment for this question went as follows:
- My experience is the smallest Crescent Moon one can see with the unaided eye is about a 9% illuminated Crescent Moon. I think smaller Crescent Moons cannot be easily seen in part because they appear at dawn and dusk. That is, there is too much light in the sky for easy viewing. Further, the Moon must be positioned far enough to the side of Earth that we can view the Moon’s illuminated face askance (hence the crescent shape).
- Therefore, there are more moon-less nights than one would expect from the Night of New Moon and a night or two before and after. The Moon must be positioned and illuminated enough for unaided viewing.
So where is the Moon during “moon-less” nights? Consider:
- The Moon travels completely around the Earth
- The Moon moves in one direction (East to West) around the Earth, and rises/sets about an hour later each day
- Therefore, at some point during the month, the Moon is directly overhead at each point in the day/night cycle.
In other words, the Moon’s arc peaks at midnight one night, then peaks at ~1am the next night, then peaks at ~2am the night after that, and so on. Some of the nights that seem moon-less are just nights when the Moon’s cycle and my waking cycle do not coincide. If I were to forgo sleep for a month and stare at the skies, I could see the Moon for more nights of the month than I currently do.
Okay, then what is the Daytime Moon?
- The unidirectional movement of the Moon around the Earth means that sometimes the Moon is overhead as we are spinning into nighttime (i.e., dusk), and sometimes the Moon is overhead while we are spinning into daytime (i.e., dawn).
- Given the direction of all the spinning, we know the waxing Moon is visible at dusk and early evening, and the waning Moon is visible in dawn!
In other words, the Daytime Moon, which we see in the morning, is waning!
Some parting thoughts:
I leaned so much about the Moon through observation. I have a new appreciation for early astronomers who uncovered the dance of our Solar System long ago, and fully believe this was possible with a dedicated and observant eye.
I leave you with this wonderful movie of the Moon’s movement around the Earth (source: NASA): Orbit of the Moon in 2013.ogv
Sunboy asked what happened to someone we no longer see, and so I explained divorce to him. After a few minutes he said, “Oh yeah, I know what divorce is. There’s lots of kids at school whose parents are divorced.” I don’t know why this surprised me but it did. The longer I think about it, my surprise surprises me.
My parents separated when I was six-years old and divorced when I was eight. I saw my father on Sundays from noon until 8 pm. I didn’t realize it until now, but Sunboy is two years older than I was when my parents parted ways. In many ways, I cannot relate to the life my children have: a house with a yard, a sibling, and married, educated parents. Sunboy added that he is not worried about our family. He nonchalantly commented “you and daddy love each other very much” as he rolled over to sleep.
She asks to put on her doctor outfit. She listens to my heart, gives me a shot, starts a medical chart for me, asking how to spell Mommy. At 4-years old, she is fascinated by the body. What is this part called, she asks, pointing to her calf. What would happen if we didn’t have bones in our foot? I would not be surprised if she studied medicine some day.
Earlier today, she asked to wear tights and a skirt. Then she twirled and twirled. I was struck by how naturally she wore the persona of a ballerina. With her love of music, I would not be surprised if she became a dancer some day.
She is pluripotent, able to be so many things. She is limitless, with no paths chosen, and no paths denied. She does not yet lean like a tree forever branching toward one view of the Sun.
She will continue where I left off.
(Happy 4th birthday, Flowergirl. I love you and I like you!)
The first time I slipped into a sensory deprivation tank, my body popped to the surface of shallow water heavy with salt. I turned off the lights, and quickly panicked at the scope of a complete lack of sensory input. I immediately felt like I was dying in the absolute nothingness of it, and then panicked more when it took me a few seconds to find the light switch or the door.
I slowly eased into the void. It took several moments for the normal chatter of my mind to subside. Time has a different meaning, or no meaning, in the tank. I read that someone went into their friend’s private tank and their friend forgot they were there and left the house. The friend floated for six hours, unaware of the passage of time. My float sessions were both ninety-minutes long, and both times I felt they could have been longer.
Once I acclimated to a world of no feeling, no sight, and no sound, I became fully aware of my heartbeat and breathing. In fact, my heartbeat seemed so loud that I wondered if I was okay. I realized that my own internal processes were the only touchstone to my physicality. It was highly meditative, and I was highly aware of my own internal rhythms.
Soon, I let go of the world. I floated palms-up, flying through the vastness of space and time among unseen planets and distant stars. I realized that this was my origin: I came from nothingness. From this nothingness, God found me. He plucked me from this ether once, and could do it again. I understood life and death as two sides of a threshold between nothing and something, and it was possible to move between the two, like a sine wave traversing an X-axis.
My father was floating in the tank next to mine. Floating was my gift to him for his 70th birthday. It seemed befitting for a man who has flown a plane, skydived, spelunked, and done so many adventurous things. Each tiny finger movement of his in the tank had large repercussions for his tank ecosphere. He said that as he floated, he became Chuang Tzu’s butterfly whose wing movement is felt around the world.
Yesterday, for my birthday, I floated for the second time. This time I eased myself slowly into the nothingness like a bath that was too warm. In retrospect, this wasn’t a good tactic. To maximize a floating experience one needs to see what it really has to offer, and that means letting go fully. Although I was hoping to fly through the universe again, my thoughts were more introspective than metaphysical.
I started by meditating on my rhythms. My heart beat three times for every inhalation and three times for every exhalation. Three beats in, three beats out. My breath was a river that sailed on the waves of my heartbeat, just like my life sailed on my emotions and my experience of it. I thought of life as a respiration, and that what one accepts determines what one is able to give. The choice of happiness includes deciding what we allow to be within ourselves. Bad things happen but many of these things can slide off like something slippery rather than something penetrating. If you can refuse to internalize some of the negativity of the world, what you are able to produce will be more positive. Again, ninety-minutes seemed too short.
My husband floated for three-hours the first time he floated and says he simply had a relaxing experience, no flying through space, no transforming into a butterfly, no experience of life as respiration. The commonality of all of our experiences was an profound euphoria upon leaving the tank, and exceptionally good sleep that night.
I’d been doing too much, everywhere, really. Finally, I was told I was not allowed to work through lunch, like I had been. So I walked instead.
I headed toward two art museums, one across the street from the other. I always visited the museum with the Pollock, the van Gogh, the Monet, and the Degas ballerina sculpture. I knew the loop that let me visit them all.
Instead, I spontaneously turned and entered the museum less traveled. The one with British soldiers posed in uniform. The one with polite landscapes in realistic hues. I climbed to the top floor, then started cruising the floors, searching for a spark for my creative sensibilities.
Then, I rounded a corner and stopped abruptly. I couldn’t believe my eyes.
Faithful readers will recall that my mother’s mental illness left me with few family touchstones from her side. One of them is a mirror that included a reproduction of a seemingly odd painting. As a child, the image unsettled me: a depiction of a blindfolded woman sitting on top of the world, her ear pressed against a lute with one string. It wasn’t until I recovered the piece as an adult that I learned its meaning. The painting is titled “Hope” because even in her circumstances she is leaning in to hear the note from the one remaining lute string. So powerful.
The artist wrote, “Hope need not mean expectancy. It suggests here rather the music which can come from the remaining chord”. Apparently, the title of Barack Obama’s book “The Audacity of Hope” is derived from a reference to this painting.
I stood in awe. I had no idea that Hope lived here. The guard hovered around me, the only visitor on the floor, but it didn’t matter. I had found Hope when I least expected it. Or maybe Hope had found me.