Today’s summer solstice in the northern hemisphere does not bring only the longest day of the year. Night sky watchers also have the opportunity to see, for the first time in 49 years, a full moon on the first day of summer.
The full moon occurs about once each month. The lunar year – the amount of time it takes for the moon to cycle through 12 lunar cycles – is 354 days; the lunar cycle averages 29.53 days.
A full moon occurs when the sun, Earth, and the moon are nearly aligned. During most full moons we see nearly all of one of the Moon’s hemispheres from our planet. We do not see all of that hemisphere during a typical full moon because, if we did, the sun, Earth, and moon would be so aligned as to result in a lunar eclipse.
The other hemisphere of the moon is never visible from Earth because the moon’s rate of rotation is equal to the amount of time it takes to orbit our planet.
Because tonight’s full moon occurs in June, it is colloquially known as a “strawberry moon.” According to the 1918 book The American Boy’s Book of Signs, Signals and Symbols, the nickname originated with native Americans of the northeastern United States because June is the month in which strawberries were harvested.
According to a 2012 National Geographic article, “Europeans have dubbed [a June full moon] the rose moon, while other cultures named it the hot moon for the beginning of the summer heat.”
The summer solstice in the northern hemisphere is the one day of the year on which the sun will be directly overhead at noon at the Tropic of Cancer. The sun is never directly overhead at a latitude north of the Tropic of Cancer or south of the Tropic of Capricorn.
In Colorado and the rest of the Mountain Time Zone of North America, the sun will get to its annual highest point in the sky at 4:34 pm.
The sun is directly overhead at high noon above the Tropic of Capricorn on the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere.
The southern hemisphere experiences its summer solstice on that day and its winter solstice when the sun is directly overhead at the Tropic of Cancer.
CORRECTION, June 20, 2016, 5:24 pm MDT: This article originally stated that the last summer solstice full moon occurred in 1949, 67 years ago. That is not an accurate statement and the article has been edited to correct the error.
Tim Kopra, a NASA astronaut on board the International Space Station, posted to his Twitter account Friday a photo of the moon. The photo is worthy of a share:
The new year will be graced quickly by two new moons, as January will see them occur on New Years Day and again on Jan. 30.
It will be four more years before two new moons in one month will be seen again, as that situation will not recur until January of 2018.
Both of the new moons occurring this month are so-called “super moons,” so named because Luna is at or very near the closest point to Earth that it ever reaches in its orbit.
This post at Skywatch includes an image of the New Years Day new moon provided by the U.S. Naval Observatory.
It’s always fun to look up at Earth’s closest neighbor and indulge some curiosity about the Moon, but tonight’s a special night to do it: it’s International Observe the Moon Night.
The celebration, sponsored by an array of scientific and educational organizations along with some dedicated Moon enthusiasts, has prompted a wide variety of events all over the world. You can find one near your home if you visit this webpage.
If you’re looking for your own activities, obviously a good place to start is by going outside and observing Luna. You don’t even need a telescope. If the night sky is clear, the naked eye will allow you a good view of lunar maria, or “seas,” and the Moon’s highlands.
If you use binoculars, attach them to a stand or tripod if you have one.
The Moon is at first quarter phase tonight, so it is not likely that an observer will be able to see the phenomenon known as Earthshine, in which the night side of the moon is visible when sunlight reflects off the surface of Earth. Earthshine is visible only when the Moon is at or near new moon phase.
After you’ve looked at the Moon, it might be fun to try your hand at this Mission Moon activity. Participants work in teams to figure out the best place on Luna for a base. The activity is suitable for kids from about third grade and up. You can also try the Moon Mappers activity.
Before going outside to have a look at our closest celestial neighbor, you might enjoy watching this NASA video about how the Moon formed and its history.
Note: This story also appears at Examiner.com.