Moonlight Fascination

Oct 2014

Moon - CarolInternational Observe the Moon Night was celebrated on 6 September 2014. All over the world people gathered to observe a brilliant Moon in gibbous phase.
What is this fascination we have with our nearest celestial neighbour? For one, our Moon is breathtakingly beautiful. Every night it takes on a new shape as the sunlit portion moves across its face to its own rhythm. From new moon to full moon and back to new moon takes an average 29 days 12 hours 44 minutes

The human brain seems to crave rhythm.
Though solar, lunar and seasonal cycles play a lesser role in modern society, the behaviour of our ancestors depended on these natural rhythms.

Scientists have been doing intensive studies on circadian rhythms. These are physical, mental and behavioural changes that follow a roughly 24-hour cycle and produced by natural factors within the body, but are also affected by signals from the environment.

Although not yet scientifically proven, some individuals believe that the Moon has a great influence on their well- being. They argue that if the Moon governs the tides, surely it would have an influence on the human body as well. There is one problem with this line of thought. The oceans are vast. An individual is but a very tiny speck on Earth.

The Ocean tides are controlled by the forces of gravity (tugging) of the Moon and Sun as well as by the rotation of Earth. Coastal areas usually experience two high and two low tides every 24 hours and 50 minutes. High tides occur 12 hours and 25 minutes apart. It takes six hours and 12.5 minutes for the water at the shore to go from high to low, or from low to high –the rhythm of ebb and flow.

The Earth’s axial rotation and the Moon’s orbital rotation result in a catch-up situation and moonrise for a specific location will be about 50 min later each day. The Moon is also visible during the day, except during new moon, when it occupies the same region in the sky as the Sun and at full moon .

Humans are by nature inquisitive. The Moon is tidally locked to our planet (its orbit of 27.5 is the same time as its axial rotation), showing just one side to us here on Earth. It was only natural that we wanted to know what the far side looked like. Once humans realised that the distance to the Moon could be overcome, missions to the Moon became commonplace and we now know that the most beautiful side is facing us!

Some say they can see a man on the Moon. During full moon I definitely see the rabbit who is still patiently mixing an elixir for Chang’e to be able to return to her beloved husband, Houyi, as in the Chinese legend.

In a world of bright lights we no longer rely on the Moon to guide our daily activities. How often do we forget that it is up there? Yet sometimes as you draw the curtains for the night it surprises you and your gaze locks in utter fascination.

It was fascination I know
And it might have ended
Right then, at the start
Just a passing glance
Just a brief romance
And next moment I kiss you
Fascination turned to love

– Nat King Cole

Total Eclipse-Feb 2008

Polluted-eclipseThere is little to compare with the emotions evoked by a lunar eclipse. One can set out to witness one of these events with a group of friends or join a host of spectators on a hilltop lookout but I prefer to go solo.
On 21 February 2008 I packed my gear, camera, binocs, coffee, chocolates and…. coffee into my 1956 VW Beetle in which I felt least likely to be hi-jacked and headed for Blouberg Strand which has a magnificent view of Cape Town’s Table Mountain. Although I like solo, I felt a need to be close to other people just for safety’s sake.
The eclipse had been widely publicized and I was expecting a crowd of onlookers on the beach and on the balconies of apartments. It was past midnight and the beach was dark and deserted. It felt a little creepy. I parked in a parking bay opposite an apartment block where there was still some activity but one by one the shutters closed and the lights went out. This was extreme solo. After giving my details and reasons for being there to a security guy and chatting to a hooker who had just taken a drunk client back to his apartment, I settled in to prepare for the eclipse.
At 03:13 I noticed the first slight darkening towards the top right limb of the Moon. From then on it was just me on Mother Earth and she had all intention of casting her shadow on the Moon as they silently progressed in their respective orbits. My emotions started building up. I scanned through all the events of my life. My camera was set up with a remote shutter release and I just clicked away, adjusting exposures as the Moon darkened. At 03:43 I could see a definite shadow and the chapters of my life closed one by one. I glanced over my shoulder to see if someone in the apartment block had set an alarm clock.
At 04:55 with only a slither of bright Moon visible, I noticed a ruddiness creep over the whole surface of the Moon. I felt connected to all my friends, witnessing the event from other locations. The eclipsed part of the Moon turned a rusty orange. I do not think I have seen a more beautiful sight. The security car approached and the guy gave me a thumbs up. I acknowledged the gesture. It was almost daybreak and I headed home before the early morning traffic. Close to home I stopped and caught one last glimpse of the eclipsed Moon through heavy city pollution.