Moon Question of the Day

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What does neaped mean in reference to a ship?

A boat that is neaped has gone aground on a mild tide and needs a spring tide or stormy waters to float it off. The boat is only barely aground, as opposed to being hard aground, where even a very high tide or rough waters might not be enough to set it free. The expression comes from the term "neap tide," which is a moderate tide. Neap tides occur when Earth, Moon, and Sun are in quadrature. In other words, instead of being lined up in a straight line, as at syzygy, they are more nearly at right angles. True quadrature happens at regular intervals, about twice a month, at the first quarter and last quarter Moons, but neap tides occur for several days around those dates. Take a look at the tides on the right-hand calendar pages of The Old Farmer's Almanac, and you'll notice that high tides are considerably higher around the full Moon and new Moon than around the first and last quarters.

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Last 7 Days

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.

Does the Moon rise and set as the Sun rises in the east and sets in the west? The enormous full Moon always takes me by surprise, and I'd love to get some shots of a big yellow Moon. Is it possible to predict the dates and times when the Moon will appear largest over the horizon?

Basically, the Moon rises in the east and sets in the west, but its path varies during the month because its orbit is elliptical. However, you will never see a rising Moon in the west or a setting Moon in the east. The time to see a huge Moon is in its full phase and when it is close to the horizon. If you check the right-hand calendar pages in the print Almanac, you will see the notation "Moon runs low"; this is when it is closest to the horizon. Check the date for each such notation, then check the left-hand calendar page for the Moon's phase and the time of its rising and setting for that date.

How old is the Moon?

The Moon is approximately 4.6 billion years old.

Does the Moon rise and set as the Sun rises in the east and sets in the west? The enormous full Moon always takes me by surprise, and I'd love to get some shots of a big yellow Moon. Is it possible to predict the dates and times when the Moon will appear largest over the horizon?

Basically, the Moon rises in the east and sets in the west, but its path varies during the month because its orbit is elliptical. However, you will never see a rising Moon in the west or a setting Moon in the east. The time to see a huge Moon is in its full phase and when it is close to the horizon. If you check the right-hand calendar pages in the print Almanac, you will see the notation "Moon runs low"; this is when it is closest to the horizon. Check the date for each such notation, then check the left-hand calendar page for the Moon's phase and the time of its rising and setting for that date.

Are there any ancient cultures known to have had a Copernican model of the solar system?

We can't find any record of a culture that believed the Sun was the center of the universe, but Copernicus wasn't the first person to say this. Around 270 B.C., on Samos (an island off the coast of what is now Turkey), Aristarchus put forth a theory of a sun-centered universe, which included his belief that the Moon's light came from the Sun. He is sometimes referred to as the Copernicus of antiquity.

Is it true that the weather changes (good to bad, bad to good) at the full Moon?

Weather records confirm that the days following both the new and full Moons are most likely to be rainy or stormy. A winter full Moon is a time for long cold snaps. In April, the full Moon brings frost. Sailors agree that the full Moon "eats clouds." Two full Moons in a month increase the chances of flood. A pale full Moon indicates rain, and a red one brings wind. A Christmas full Moon predicts a poor harvest.

Is the distance between Earth and the Moon increasing?

Yes. Because Earth spins slower every day (that's just what spinning objects do), the Moon moves not quite two inches away from it each year. The rate decreases by 1-1/2 thousandths of a second every 100 years -- not enough so that you'd notice, but enough for the Moon's gravitational pull to lessen. This allows its orbit to increase, which results in a greater distance from Earth. Got that?

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