Moon Question of the Day

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Why don't eclipses occur every month?

If the Moon always moved on exactly the same path, and if that path crossed in front of the Sun, there would indeed be an eclipse every month--two of them, in fact, one of the Sun and one of the Moon. But the Moon's path is more complicated than that, and most months it passes above or below the Sun.

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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.

How much would you weigh on the Moon?

Just multiply your weight (it doesn't matter if it's in pounds or kilograms) by 0.165. You'd weigh about 80 percent less!

What actually causes people to act like lunatics during a full Moon?

From the time of the ancient Greeks and Romans (and maybe earlier), mankind has believed that "the full Moon has the power to tear reason out of a man's head by depriving him of humors and cerebral virtues" (Paracelsus). Scientific studies over the years have tried to link the full Moon with times of increased violence, suicide, mental disorders, and fits and seizures, but results are inconclusive. Some small-scale studies have shown correlations between the full Moon and increased police activity, hot-line phone calls, and hospital emergencies.

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.

Can you please tell me where I should go to see the "horns" of the Moon pointing up?

Around 18 to 28 degrees north latitude, the horns of the Moon at times point directly up. This happens just after sunset in the west, near the horizon, for a waxing Moon and just before sunrise in the east, near the horizon, for a waning moon. The same is true at around 18 to 28 degrees south latitude--just exchange east and west. A beautiful picture of the Moon with its horns pointing upward (but not straight up) is visible over a much wider area. In the United States, southern Florida is a great place to see this.

Did something happen astronomically in 1962 that will not be repeated for 4,000 years?

In 1962 there was a Great Conjunction, or alignment of all the visible planets plus the Sun and Moon, along with a solar eclipse. Now that was unusual! Some sources mistakenly suggest that such a planetary alignment occurs only about every 4,000 to 6,000 years, which is not true.

Can you please tell me where I should go to see the "horns" of the Moon pointing up?

Around 18 to 28 degrees north latitude, the horns of the Moon at times point directly up. This happens just after sunset in the west, near the horizon, for a waxing Moon and just before sunrise in the east, near the horizon, for a waning moon. The same is true at around 18 to 28 degrees south latitude--just exchange east and west. A beautiful picture of the Moon with its horns pointing upward (but not straight up) is visible over a much wider area. In the United States, southern Florida is a great place to see this.

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