Another interesting segment this week from Dean Regas. I’m beginning to wonder if he’ll end up the standing host (or the sitting-and-flying-around-the-planets host, to be more exact). That announcement’s supposed to be made this Summer. A little digging around on the internet just taught me that Dean has been writing his own segments this month, which is outstanding, because there have been some neat facts and tie-ins lately, like last week’s Omar Khayyam reference and the Zodiacal Light information.
This week he shares the one-day old Moon’s trick of showing Earthshine. This really is beautiful, and usually easy to see, especially from a vantage in the northern hemisphere in the Spring. Here’s a breathtaking image, courtesy of NASA’s “Astronomy Picture of the Day” (which you should all check out daily … there’s an amazing image of Mars up today):
APOD - The Old Moon In The New Moon’s Arms
In the copy there, you can read that Earthshine is strongly influenced by cloud cover, and albedo studies indicate that it’s more pronounced during April and May. Another interesting fact there: a description of Earthshine, in terms of sunlight reflected by Earth’s oceans illuminating the Moon’s surface, was written 500 years ago by Leonardo da Vinci. Of course, old Leo was wrong, the Earth’s oceans are actually much less reflective than the clouds, and he also thought the surface of the Moon was itself covered with oceans, but hey, it was 500 years ago. Everyone believed the Sun went around the Earth, and no one knew about a little place called Australia.
Here’s a bonus Earthshine pic I couldn’t pass up, of a lunar occultation of Venus:
APOD - Venus in the Moon
The origin of that poetic phrase “The Old Moon in the New Moon’s Arms” is obscure, but seems to have first appeared in a centuries-old poem called “The Ballad of Sir Patrick Spens”. It’s Scottish, and from the 13th century, so bear with the weirdo English here, but the line is:
“Laie late yestreen I saw the new moone,
Wi the auld moone in her arme”
If you can make sense of that, go ahead and follow the link above; it’s really a beautiful piece, with a certain sense of modernity that makes it feel almost relevant today. The ballad was sung and revised for hundreds of year before being written down in the 18th century, but the story is based on two 13th century voyages that Scottish noblemen made to conduct their princesses to royal marriages in Norway, during which many members of the royal families were shipwrecked and drowned.
I particularly like the moral here about the limits of wealth. It’s good to remember that fine shoes and fancy hats are no insulation when seas are rough. There’s also a lesson here regarding subjects’ powerlessness in the face of their kings, as Sir Patrick first laughs, then weeps openly when asked to sail seas deadly at that time of year, because he knows he has no choice. When Buffy Saint-Marie covered this on 1968’s Little Wheel Spin and Spin, I’m sure she felt something similar, tied then to the Vietnam War and the draft.
There’s a pretty little love poem by 19th century poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox called “The Old Moon in the New Moon’s Arms’ that came up in a Google search for me. You might like it:
Poems of Love - Ella Wheeler Wilcox
Let me leave you with one last thought, and image, before this post gets entirely too long. Dean points out that in the beginning of April, particularly on the 6th, the Pleiades appear right around the crescent moon. The Pleiades star cluster is also called The Seven Sisters, for the Greek myth of the seven daughters of Atlas. Strangely, there are actually just six bright stars, not seven. In fact, this star-forming region is home to more than 3,000, but only six are easily visible to the naked eye. The connection to the cluster and the number seven exists across many cultures, leading some to believe that a “lost Pleiad” once shown brighter in ancient skies. That, or there’s something particularly appealing to all of us about the number seven - which is entirely possible.
One more APOD link for you here, of the sisters hidden behind their blue veil of interstellar dust:
APOD - The Seven Sisters
It’s beautiful, and you can usually see it even from our horribly light-polluted skies. You should check it out next week if you can. A fun fact for you, as a reward for reading down this far: Subaru is the Japanese name for the Pleiades, and alludes to the six companies that merged to form Fuji Heavy Industries, the parent company whose automobile arm is Subaru. Maybe you’ll notice the stars on their logo a little differently now.