Sky Power Blog Post #3 – A Smile from the Evening Sky

The story goes that, as Noah’s flood was ending, a rainbow appeared in the heavens as a sign from the creator that such an apocalypse would never befall the world again. As many in our region now endure destruction and sorrow, we all hope for relief from the skies, coming as a return to the cool, moist, gentle breezes characteristic of our familiar marine layer.

crescent moon

Such a change of weather could clear out a lot of the smoke that’s been filtering the sunlight in uncanny ways you may have noticed, as well as creating the very odd colorations of the sun itself. The ground has been so golden-orange that shadows appear blue, by perceptual contrast. Even under the ominous pall in the sky, reflections of the sun on car windows appear as if little orange lamps have been placed around the landscape.

Beginning August 22nd, if anything at all is visible in the sky at twilight time, a beautiful little arc of light will hang low in the west, different in nature from the colorful rainbow. A thin crescent moon will “smile” down upon us, with a Cheshire-cat grin! If forest fire smoke persists, the moon’s “smile” may gleam lipstick red. It’s always my favorite lunar phase, as it’s both beautiful and interesting. What makes it especially intriguing is the very faint glow around the entire circle of the rest of the moon, the part that’s not in the bright crescent which is being directly lit by the sun. 

Ever wonder what is causing that silvery, ghostly glow? This subtle phenomenon is called “earthshine,” because it’s the light from the nearly full earth, as seen in the moon’s night sky when we experience a crescent moon in our sky. Close your eyes and picture a time when you saw bright moonlight all over snow or rocks or fields at night, with the full moon above. Well, what we see in the earthshine, up there on the moon, is the ground on the night side of the moon, all lit up by the full earth! Some traditions have called it the “old moon in the new moon’s arms.” You’ll see that it gets fatter,“waxing,” and stays up or sets later, from one night to the next as the moon works its way eastward around the world, taking about a “moonth” for a full orbit! 

This article and its sequel, “high-light” the phenomena of the subtle natural lighting that occurs at night. It also promotes the mission and work of the International Dark Sky Association, which has a chapter here in the Santa Cruz area. Check it out!

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