Moon Question of the Day

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Why did the old almanacs always recommend planting potatoes on Good Friday?

We can't speak for other old almanacs, but certainly The Old Farmer's Almanac has never recommended planting potatoes on Good Friday; our only recommendation has been to plant by the dark of the Moon. Further, all our research has turned up contrary advice -- neither to plant nor to dig potatoes on Good Friday. It was thought the timing would produce poor crops. The Creoles of Louisiana believed that if the ground were cut open on this day, Christ's blood would run out into the rows. The only exception we found was an old belief that seeds planted on Good Friday will thrive.

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Last 7 Days

When does a new Moon rise?

The new Moon always rises at sunrise. The full Moon always rises at sunset.

What exactly is a waning or waxing gibbous or crescent Moon?

First, gibbous refers to the shape you can see when the lighted surface of the Moon is bigger than a crescent shape; the crescent shape is defined by the distinct points on the lighted sliver. The Moon moves in these phases: new Moon, waxing crescent, first quarter Moon, waxing gibbous, full Moon, waning gibbous, last quarter Moon, waning crescent, back to new Moon. So waxing means the moon is on its way to being full; waning means the Moon is on its way to being new (the phase you really can't see).

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.

How much space junk is out there?

Tons of space junk is orbiting the Earth and sitting on the surfaces of the Moon, Venus, and Mars. The Moon alone has 20 tons of it. These are man-made items that space explorers have left behind. Since 1957, when the Russians launched the first artificial satellite, we've left our junk in the skies and on other planets--sometimes on purpose, sometimes by accident. Among this debris is a glove somebody lost on the first space walk, from Gemini 4; a camera from Gemini 10; and miscellaneous pieces of rocket boosters and spacecraft. Some of these objects will eventually fall to Earth, others will burn up as they enter Earth's atmosphere, and still others will remain in space for many, many years.

I'm not old enough to remember the Moon landings. I'd like to know what phase the Moon was in on July 20, 1969.

It was in the waxing phase, six days old. (The new Moon was on the 14th.)

Before gravity was understood, what did the ancients think caused tides?

Some people explained the motion of the planets by assuming that the planets were being pushed by angels. The same may have been true for tides. In other words, the explanation was found in supernatural forces. Since the Mediterranean Sea is very little affected by the tides, the ancient Greeks and Romans paid very little attention to it. Plutarch and Aristotle recognized the Moon as the cause of the tides, without understand gravitational pull. Pliny believed that the Moon had an attraction which caused the tides. Other scientists, like Ptolemy, settled just for a description without searching for a cause.

I am interested in any folklore concerning marriage and the Moon.

The ancient Greeks believed that marriages consummated during the full Moon were the most prosperous and happiest, but a waning Moon boded ill for wedded bliss. The full Moon is also considered to be an ideal time to accept a marriage proposal. Folklore has it that if a young woman sees a dove and the new Moon at the same instant, she should say, "Bright Moon, clear Moon, / Bright and fair, / Lift up your right foot, / There'll be a hair." When she removes her shoe, she'll find a hair that is the same color as her future husband's.

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