Moon Question of the Day

What is a "Catfish Moon"?

We couldn't find specific information on a Catfish Moon. However, in colonial America, the full Moon of March was called the Fish Moon. This probably had something to do with the beginning of fish spawning season along the eastern coast of the United States. Old catfishermen believed the best time to fish was three days before a full Moon to three days after a full Moon. They also believed that the day of the new Moon (the dark of the Moon) was a good time to fish for catfish. Not that you asked, but we did discover a play entitled "Catfish Moon," written by Laddy Sartin, and an Australian blues band of the same name.

Last 7 Days

    In south Texas, I saw the largest ring around the Moon I've ever seen. Why so big and does it predict weather?

    The ring around the Moon (and sometimes the Sun) is called a halo. The most common halos are caused by hexagonal ice prisms where the light enters and exits through one of the side faces and the halos have a diameter of 44 degrees. A quite rare form of halo is produced by cubic ice crystal or by hexagonal ice prisms where the light goes through the end faces of the prism and this halo has an diameter of 92 degrees. I am sure you saw this 92 degree halo in that clear Texan night-a rare event. In 60 years of observing the nigh sky, I have only seen this twice. As far as I know, it has no weather prognosticating indications.

    What is the most recent year that had a full Moon on February 29?

    This occurred most recently in 1972. This is indeed a rare event, since the next most recent year was 1820.

    How come longitude lines start in Greenwich, England?

    The Royal Observatory Greenwich is located at the National Maritime Museum in London. The original site of the observatory was arbitrarily chosen as longitude 0 degrees in 1884. A plaque in the original structure marks the zero point from which longitude is calculated. The observatory was founded in 1675 by King Charles II to keep accurate tables of the position of the Moon for the calculation of longitude by English ships. In 1750 those tables were published as the Astronomical Observations, and after 1838 they were published annually. Meridian observations of the Sun, stars, and planets also were made at the observatory. Photographs of the Sun were taken daily, conditions permitting, and a continuous photographic record of sunspots was kept starting in 1873. Today the observatory is primarily a museum with a small planetarium.

    Why does the Moon look so much bigger on the horizon than it does once it has risen higher in the sky?

    When the Moon is on the horizon, you have other objects, such as houses and trees, to compare it to, so it looks larger. Once the Moon is in the sky, the only things to compare it to are the stars, which appear as tiny points of light. Hence the Moon looks smaller once it has risen.

    I've heard that on May 19, 1780, in the northeastern part of North America, there was a period of "extraordinary darkness," which began between 10 A.M. and 11 A.M. and lasted until the middle of the next night. Also, the full moon rose at 9 P.M. that evening but was not visible until midnight, when it had the "appearance of blood." I've checked records of solar and lunar eclipses for that date, and none was close enough to have caused the phenomenon. Do you have any information about such an event? Could you provide an explanation for it?

    For a generation of New Englanders, Friday, May 19, 1780, was a date never to be forgotten. The Sun was blotted out by a strange darkness, varying in intensity and length from place to place, but extending from New Jersey and New York across Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and southeastern New Hampshire into Maine. For several days prior to the "Dark Day," the Sun was obscured by smoky clouds, and the Moon took on an unusual reddish color. Darkness began around 10 in the morning and lasted throughout the day. (When the Connecticut legislature proposed adjournment following the belief that the day of judgment was at hand, a Colonel Davenport declared: "I am against an adjournment. The day of judgment is either approaching, or it is not. If it is not, there is no cause for an adjournment; if it is, I choose to be found doing my duty.") The night that followed was no comfort to the fearful, being unusually black and impervious to any artificial light. The next day, a fine sulfurlike substance was noticed on the edges of water, but the only reports of adverse effects concerned the death of a number of birds. The first theories of a comet or solar eclipse were ruled out, and the earliest guesses regarding smoke from forest fires turned out to be accurate. Out-of-control forest fires, extending from New Hampshire into New York State, burned furiously for a week preceding the dark day, creating great suffocating clouds of smoke. An unusual atmospheric condition trapped the smoke until it reached sufficient density to blot out the Sun. However, for many New Englanders, the Dark Day was an inexplicable mystery, never recalled without a feeling of awe.

    Does the Moon rise and set in any particular time pattern?

    The rising and setting of the Moon is retarded from day to day, but the delay is not consistent. At moonrise, the Moon occupies a particular place in the celestial sphere. Approximately 24 hours later, the Moon has moved to the east in the sphere, so moonrise and moonset occur a little later. In the northern United States, the daily delay can vary from a few minutes to well over an hour.

    Is there a rhyme about the color of the Moon and how this color can foretell the weather?

    There are several, but the one most familiar to us is "Pale Moon doth rain, red Moon doth blow, white Moon doth neither rain nor snow".

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