This weekend my wife and stacked three cords of wood — two of oak and one of birch. It was one the hottest jobs I’ve done in a long, long time. My shirt and pants were soaked with sweat, but what a satisfying sight to see all that neatly stacked wood. Back in the house with the blessed fan blasting on high I peered out the window to admire our work. Oh, the beauty. We crave the tangible — efforts that yield results you can see.
In the course of bending down and lifting nearly 1,000 pieces of split wood one piece stood out. On on end I immediately recognized a crescent moon with a companion “dark star” that strongly resembled the emblem of moon and star on the Turkish flag. Well, I just HAD to take a photo. The wooden moon also inspired me to get up early to see the one made of green cheese, which coincidentally was also in crescent phase. I am so glad I did. I love crescents and things shaped like crescents including croissants (French for crescent), sickles and smiles.
So I popped up this morning and headed down to Lake Superior, the only place within miles that offers skywatchers an uncluttered eastern horizon. When the moon first rose it was just a tiny light like a ship in the distance, but by and by I could make out the shape and cheese-orange glow. Bodies like the sun and moon rise orange because miles of dense air in the horizontal direction scatter away the cooler colors.
Multiple layers of air can also cause also distort the moon’s outline, which it did to beautiful effect this morning, twisting it like a rag. As it rose higher, the distortions disappeared, the crescent brightened and the ghostly remainder of the moon filled out the circle. The sun directly illuminates the lunar crescent with the rest aglow from earth-light or light reflected off the Earth into space out to the moon and back to our eyes. It’s brightest when the moon is thinnest because the Earth is nearly full (a Full Earth) as seen from the moon at that time.
A thin crescent at dawn means we’ll be seeing the same at dusk very soon. New moon occurs at 10:11 p.m. tomorrow (July 31). Our next opportunity for a crescent high will be the following dusk on August 1. If you have perfect horizon you might see an extremely young moon — fewer than 24 hours old — if you scan the western horizon with eye and binoculars about 15-20 minutes after sunset on Thursday, August 1.
Don’t sweat it if you can’t see Thursday. Come Friday the 2nd it will be much easier to spot in the same direction about a half hour after sunset. I also saw a bunch of meteors this morning without even trying. The August Perseids are now just starting to become active. So is a minor annual shower called the Delta Aquarids which can produce between 10 and 20 meteors per hour. They radiate from the constellation Aquarius in the eastern half of the sky during evening hours. Between the two the nights are getting lively.
Happy crescent hunting — wherever you happen to come upon them!