It Dawned on Me: You can stare at the moon, but not the sun
By Dawn De Busk
I missed three supermoons in a row.
I had planned to be waiting the very moment that the full moon popped into the horizon. I wanted to be there to witness the celestial phenomenon.
The word supermoon was coined to describe the moon during the times of the year when the moon and Earth are closest. A supermoon can happen when the moon is at any lunar phase: from crescent to full. But a full supermoon is the most spectacular.
A quick lesson from the astronomical sciences: Since the moon has an egg-shaped orbit around Earth, depending on its position in orbit, the moon is actually closer (perigee) or further away (apogee) from Earth.
According to scientists who write for the EarthSky Sciences website, the supermoon in November 2016 would actually be 12 to 14 percent closer to Earth than when the moon is at apogee. Additionally, the moon would appear 30 percent brighter.
The dates for last year’s supermoons were October 16, November 14 and December 14. On the night of Nov. 14, history was being made — the moon had not been that close to Earth since Jan. 26, 1948. There would not be a repeat performance until 2034.
Thanks to the websites I either speed-read or thoroughly study, I knew about these year-end supermoons in advance.
Still, I managed to miss the three supermoons that happened during the final three months of 2016.
Yes, I did look up in sky and acknowledge that I was viewing less distance between the moon and me. But, I missed “being there” and seeing it — the supermoonrise almost immediately after the sunset.
What’s worse is: I had it all planned out.
Earlier in the week, I had scouted the areas in the region with the best easterly exposure. The sunsets are gorgeous from the parking lot of Raymond Public Boat Launch, which offers a nice, westward view of Sebago Lake. However, the moonrises happen above Route 302. From that viewpoint, the moon ends up behind the wires of utility poles and stoplights.
Hacker’s Hill is a prime spot for moonrises. I have witnessed at least a dozen moonrises, three times as many sunsets, a lunar eclipse, and 15 meteors with long trails from the vantage point of Hacker’s Hill. I had hoped a supermoon would be added to that list.
The Crescent Lake public beach also promised to provide viewpoints that were open in an eastward direction with mountains as a backdrop and the water as the moon’s mirror. I actually drove there during the day and stood on the shore with my compass.
Somehow, on those magical dates of October 16, November 14 and December 14, I was unable to get to the right spots at the right time. Three times, I missed the moonrise that I had envisioned.
And, three times, I took comfort in the supermoon I did see in the sky on those nights. I took comfort in past memories, especially in the supermoon that I saw serendipitously in California on Dec. 21, 1999. Right at sunset we were in a city. The supermoon rose between the skyscrapers and appeared like a giant glowing bowling ball getting ready to roll down the street. Later, a friend told me there wouldn’t be another full moon that close to the earth until 2016, which seemed light years away.
Instead of being disappointed — like the time we paid for a $100-a-night campsite to view the peak of the Perseid meteor shower from an oceanside beach in Wells and it clouded over at 10 p.m., the exact time that prime viewing was predicted — I came to terms with it. Or, so I tried to convince myself.
The peculiar thing is I felt guilty for being bummed about missing out on the opportunity to see these rare moonrises. I felt guilty because there are much worse things that can go wrong in life. It seems petty on my part to spend time lamenting a missed a meteor shower or a supermoon.
So, like any good scientist of life, I stepped back and asked myself why it is so important to me.
When I gaze up at the sky, I feel connected and grounded. When I look up at the moon, the stars, the planets in the night sky, I feel both small and secure. I feel connected to the universe and thankful for the people who are under the same moon and stars as me.
Another great thing: I can stare at the moon but I cannot stare at the sun (without damaging my eyes.) The moon’s light is actually from the sun so staring at the moon is the next best thing.
Anyhow, I had many supermoon conversations with my daughter during the last quarter of 2016.
During the night of December’s supermoon, after missing the moonrise, my daughter and I went for a drive to get a more open view of the moon.
It was a nice excursion because we had just purchased a new-to-us, used vehicle. It a 2009 with radio volume control buttons on the steering wheel. (I guess that is a common luxury in newer vehicles.) Danielle was allowed to choose the radio station and we parked in the scenic pull off next to Parker Pond. The moon was already high in the sky. Like a lantern with 360-degree illumination capacity, the moonlight brightened the hills and the water, which was not entirely frozen.
Other than the music, we spent 10 or 15 minutes in complete silence. I stared at the moon to my heart’s content until it became a silvery blur. Meanwhile, my heart was content with the simplicity of time spent with my daughter, doing nothing together.
She lowered the volume on the music and said, “Gosh, mom you’ve been staring at the moon for 30 minutes straight!” (Teens have a penchant for exaggeration, it had only been 15.)
I replied, “Yeah, well, I stared at the moon that long because I can stare at the moon,”
You, too can stare at the moon. This Sunday is a full moon night. While it does not qualify for supermoon status, this March moon is sometimes called the Sap Moon or the Crow Moon. The moon warrants some attention. I encourage people to step outside and check it out this weekend. It’s a great moon under which to ski or snowmobile, too.
The next great supermoon does not occur until 2034. So, my daughter who is 13 years old will be 31 years old when another supermoon that compares with November 2016 appears in the sky. Meanwhile, I will be 69 years old and probably making plans for the best viewing spot.