The Stranded Stargazer

When there is nothing but gray, day and night
As layers of dark clouds canvas the sky
I recall how I would ponder and write
About what’s seen from the telescope’s eye

For with a clear sky you can catch the Moon
Or observe planets, like Venus and Mars
And with telescope, find distant Neptune
Among the constellations drawn from stars

But rude Winter cloaks all that shines above
First by snow, then sleet, then widening frost
Denying this stranded stargazer’s love
To remain indoors dreaming of nights lost

Yet Winter will not always reign as king
I shall see Orion at start of Spring

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No Moon in February!

Do not adjust your screen, there really is nothing to see here.

I admit – though not accurate it makes for a sensational headline.  “No Moon in February!”

Of course there is a Moon.  There is always a Moon, our Moon, somewhere, visible to some degree nearly every day, weather permitting.  But February 2018 has no Full Moon, as the adjoining phase bounds this time happened first on January 31st with the next on March 1st.

When Pope Gregory XIII introduced his namesake Gregorian calendar in 1582, I am sure foremost on the 16th century mind was that February at times would have no Full Moon.  A 28-day month fits very snuggly into the 29.5 day cycle of the Moon, if you allow it.

How often does this happen?  Roughly four times per century, according to Sky and Telescope.  The last Full-Moonless February was in 1999.  That was a long time ago.  So long ago that America was still launching its own manned space missions via the space shuttle fleet (though as The Science Geek explains, the dearth of American human spaceflight may be rapidly approaching its end).

A February without a Full Moon makes for a January and March with two Full Moons each.  But this post is about poor February.  Let her 31-day brothers have their hoarding bragging rights in their own times.

Nonetheless, February should not feel too bad.  Lack of Full Moon is merely an anomalous quirk of our calendar, cured easily with time and a healthy dose of 2019.

We’re in the middle of a February with no Full Moon.  Logically, that means we are close to the New Moon phase.  It’s a great time for stargazing, if you can bear the cold and find a sky free of Winter clouds.

Moon on the Following Morning after the Lunar Eclipse

February 1st, 2018, 07:10 a.m. local time

I took this picture just over 24 hours after I witnessed this year’s Lunar Eclipse.  The Moon was still very full, despite having been over a day into its Waning Phase.  It was a very cold morning, but clear enough for the Moon to shine brightly in the West.

Weather Reports from the 2018 Lunar Eclipse

January 30th, 2018, 08:00 p.m. local time

Very thick cloud cover throughout the sky.  No sign of the rising Moon.

January 31st, 2018, 12:20 a.m. local time

I stepped outside for a moment.  Clouds everywhere, but the circular form of the Moon shown through them from above.  It was blurry, but obviously visible.

January 31st, 2018, 05:30 a.m. local time

Incredibly, not a cloud in my Western sky!

The night before, I had prepared my 127mm Mak-Cass and digital camera with tripod, hoping to see and capture this morning’s Lunar Eclipse event.  Though bitterly cold, I persevered, and it was well worth the effort.

I did not get to see the entire eclipse, as expected, but I saw a great deal of it.  The full eclipse happened about 15 minutes after Sunrise when the Moon had already set past the West horizon.

This was the nearly Full Moon at about 5:30am:

Click for full size.

About ten minutes later, darkness was obviously beginning to enshroud the upper-left of the Moon:

Click for full size.

And 15 minutes after that:

Click for full size.

Approaching 6:00am, the Moon was about to descend below a house.  This was the last picture I took while it was still visible:

Click for full size.

At this point I scuttled, I mean abandoned…err just left my telescope where it was, in favor of the more mobile digital camera on tripod.  This allowed me to quickly get at angles between trees and houses to see the Moon as it began its final descent.

Around 6:30am, the Moon looked almost like its normal crescent, but of course we know this shape was caused today by the Earth’s shadow:

Click for full size.

January 31st, 2018, 06:45 a.m. local time

A half hour before Sunrise, I caught my last view of the Moon this morning, now just a fading red arc, like a gliding feather about to touch the ground.

Click for full size.

Soon after I took this last picture, clouds started to blanket the Western sky once again.

NEWS: Moon Seen in Daylight

Contrary to popular belief, the Moon (upper left) can sometimes be seen in daytime.

BRIGHTVILLE, ILLINOIS – After concerned citizens reported a UFO in the low Western sky, the apparent same object was spotted late in the afternoon the following day.

The previously unidentified object, known as the Moon, was seen last Friday in the hour before sunset and shortly thereafter.

While most people paid little heed to the event, some Brightville residents did report their sightings to the Illinois Department of Illumination.

“We’ve had motorists and pedestrians calling our office to report seeing the object for a second day,” said an IDOI spokestalker.  “Though it appeared slightly larger in the sky than last night, we do still firmly believe it is the Moon again.”

Though the Moon is a natural and predictable sight, it is nonetheless not approved to appear in Illinois skies.

As IDOI explains, “To date, nobody has yet filled out the necessary paperwork or filed a license application for the Moon to appear in our skies like it does.”

The unlicensed Moon sightings have fueled assertions from the Nighttime Lighting Association to increase the number of streetlights throughout the state.  The rational is that more artificial outdoor lighting will make it difficult to impossible to see any objects in the sky, day or night.

Though the NLA was unavailable for comment, the organization’s website says they are, “committed to the propagation of street lamps, spotlights, and high-intensity outdoor home bulbs so that we’ll never see the dark of night again.”

Critics of the NLA’s position believe that it unnecessarily harms natural night environments by contributing to light pollution.

BREAKING NEWS: Moon Visible Despite Excessive Light

Experts acknowledged that the object (lower-left center) witnessed by several persons is known as the Moon.

BRIGHTVILLE, ILLINOIS – The Earth’s only natural satellite made a surprise appearance in the sky yesterday evening, alarming the few onlookers who happened to noticed its thin crescent near the Western horizon.

Sources confirmed that the Moon may have been visible for a limited time on Thursday, until about an hour after sunset.  It appeared as what astronomers call a Waxing Crescent, since each night there will more of its disc visible, until it reaches its Full phase on the 31st of January.

“I was walking to my car in the parking lot after work and, you know, just happened to see something in the sky that wasn’t an airplane,” said one anonymous blogger.  “It’s so hard to see anything up there with all these lights.”

Though the appearance of the Moon is not typically a concern to most people, Illinois has taken aggressive steps in recent years to illuminate its night sky more.  In particular, the installation of new ultra-bright LED lights along the state’s streets and tollways have greatly contributed to what critics call “light pollution.”

“We received many reports from concerned motorists about a curved-shape UFO low in the sky,” said an Illinois Department of Illumination spokesperson.  “After review with top meteorogical experts, we are confident the object was indeed the Moon.

“Understanding the anxiety this event caused, rest assured that we will be looking to install even more high-powered LEDs throughout our roadways.  We simply cannot have our motorists distracted by objects appearing in the sky from nowhere without official approval.”

Due largely to the Chicago region, Illinois has one of the highest Bortle scale ratings on the planet.

“Our goal, and the goal of every Illinois citizen, is to achieve the highest Bortle scale rating in the country and throughout the world.”

Illinois authorities warn that in areas without cloud cover, the Moon may be more visible and brighter every night for the next ten days.

Four Nights, One Lamp, Four Phases

Click for larger image.

November 28th, 2017, 6:00 p.m. local time
November 29th, 2017, 6:00 p.m. local time
November 30th, 2017, 6:00 p.m. local time
December 1st, 2017, 6:00 p.m. local time

On Tuesday, November 28th, I disembarked from my normal train home from work.  It was a clear night with the Moon high above.  I decided to take a picture with the only camera I had available, which of course was my smartphone.

On Wednesday, November 28th, I disembarked from my normal train home from work.  It was a clear night with the Moon high above.  Standing in the same spot as the night prior and at roughly the same time, I look a picture of the Moon again.

On Thursday, November 29th, I disembarked from my normal train home from work.  It was a clear night with the Moon above.  Standing in the same spot that I did on the prior two nights, I look a picture of the Moon again.

On Friday, December 1st, I disembarked from my normal train home from work.  It was a clear night with the Moon towards the East.  Standing in the same spot that I did on the prior three nights, I look a picture of the Moon again.

This format was unintentional at the start, but by Thursday I decided to trek along with the experiment for as long as the clouds would stay away.  In the end, I had four image sets, each 24 hours apart, pointed in the same direction.

The walkway light proved an excellent anchor to align the images day by day.  Obviously, they are not 100% exact.  I tried to stand in the same spot each night, but as this wasn’t a controlled environment exercise, the Moon’s path and location is ever so slightly off, but hardly noticeable.

Keep in mind that the Moon moves backward every day from its position the prior day.  This was demonstrated quit visibly in August as the Moon past over the Sun from right to left.

Here is the same image with each day’s date tagged to its Moon phase:

Morning Moon and Jupiter

Click for the full-sized image.

December 14th, 2017, 5:05 a.m. local time

In a partial attempt to stargaze earlier than Jim R for one morning, I caught a great view of a very Waning Moon rising in the East, with a bonus of Jupiter following along.  You can see Jupiter a bit to the lower right of the Moon as it peeks just above a tree branch.

Frequent readers of this blog know that I mention my view of the East being blocked by trees.  Here you get scope of that blockage, which of course alleviates some in the Winter months.  I enjoy watching Orion and later Sirius ascend through this netted mosaic on clear December evenings.

Morning Moon Before the Front

Click for the full-sized image.

December 8th, 2017, 9:50 a.m. local time

My location was quite different from where I photographed the Moon last night.  The venue changed from the evening darkness of my yard to the bright, expansive view from my place of work.  In nearly twelve hours, the Moon traveled across sky via its elliptic, and was now settling into the West.  All this time, the Moon gradually crept closer East towards the Sun, even though the general movement direction is East-to-West.

Notice the Moon high in the middle, with the approaching clouds from the Northwest.

This picture was taken with my smartphone and edited for some minor post-processing.