Tonight, if you can, take a minute and go out and look to the skies. If visibility is good, you’ll be basking in the light of the dazzling full moon. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet, presented by DuPont.
“In the wintertime, the moon is higher in the sky. It’s very, very high above the horizon.”
Geoff Chester is an astronomer and public affairs officer with the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington, DC. He says that just as September’s full moon is known as the “harvest moon”, tonight’s moon has also earned an appropriate nickname.
“The January moon is known as the old moon or the cold moon because that’s a very good description of the season. The moon is very high and the nights are very, very long so it’s the dominant night time object.”
And if the light of tonight’s full moon seems especially bright, it’s because the weather is colder.
“In cold temperatures, the humidity literally freezes out of the atmosphere and the humidity is very, very low. This causes less of an obscuring effect on the moon so the moon appears to be very, very white and dazzling set against a very dark sky in the winter.”
Geoff Chester says this may be a good time of year to get a closer view of the moon, and you don’t need an expensive telescope.
“If you have a pair of binoculars, either prop them up on a solid object or bolt them to a tripod and you can actually make out features on the moon. You can see the more prominent craters and you can see how features appear to change as the illumination moves around the moon’s surface. It is also the only place in the entire universe other than the earth where we have actually gone and walked around. So that adds another aspect to the magic of it. You can spend hours and hours and hours looking at the moon.”
It’s also on these winter nights that you’re more likely to see a ring around the moon, and we’ll hear more about that in our next program. Pulse of the Planet is presented by DuPont, bringing you the miracles of science, with additional support provided by the National Science Foundation. I’m Jim Metzner.