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September 2012 Newsletter, Stories & Announcements...


As you know, this newsletter is dedicated to providing information on various aspects of world globes and typically we limit ourselves to Earth globes. However, for this September issue we felt it would be fun to take a look at some "out of this world events" that have taken place during the past month. We hope you find it as interesting as we do!

Mars Mania... Exploring the Red Planet!
12 inch Mars GlobeOver the last few weeks the news has been filled with accounts of the Mars rover Curiosity. If you have been following the Curiosity adventures you undoubtedly know of the successful landing which took place on August 6, 2012. At the present time the Curiosity rover is undergoing its shakedown cruise as its operators perform the tests necessary to ensure the rover is ready to undertake its mission of scientific exploration.

The Curiosity mission has refocused people's attention on our planetary neighbor, the red planet Mars. For those who wish to follow the mission there are a plethora of online resources from NASA to news sites, forums to blogs, and even Wiki's where interested users contribute to the writing of the story. As exciting as the electronic tools are, don't overlook the inherent advantages of a globe in helping understand distances and accurate scale when studying a planetary body. Just as there are Earth globes to help learn about the physical sciences of geography, topography, climate, ocean currents, etc., there are detailed Mars globes that can be useful in learning more about Martian geography and topographical features.

Close up view of Gale Crater on Mars GlobeSky & Telescope has licensed NASA imagery to create an accurately detailed Mars globe. The cartography on this 12 inch globe has been pieced together from thousands of images captured by the Viking orbiters. The Gale crater is clearly visible on the Mars globe, located approximately 5° below the Martian equator and at approximately the 222° meridian. (The Pathfinder, Viking 1, Viking 2, Spirit and Opportunity landing sites are also shown on the Mars globe.)

The mission parameters call for Curiosity to operate on the Martian surface for approximately 23 months. Having been on planet for just over a month, you can look forward to learning a great deal more about Mars as the Curiosity rover continues its exploration!

Admittedly, the image of the Mars globe above is rather small, making the Gale crater almost impossible to see. (We purposely keep the image size down so we don't clog up your email.) However, if you would like to get a better look at the Gale crater on the Mars globe; you can do so on the World Globe Universe web site. Click on the link to find a larger image of the Mars globe. Simply click on the main image to enlarge it. In the enlarged view, the Gale crater is located just below the equator and slightly left of center. If you prefer to stay within this newsletter, the inset image above shows a close up view of the Gale crater where the Curiosity rover is currently operating.

Once in a "Blue Moon"
The internet and local news have been abuzz with stories about the August 31, 2012 Blue Moon. For anyone who ventured out between sunset and dawn, it was pretty obvious the Moon was not blue. From personal observation, for those in the western United States the atmospheric smoke from numerous wild fires actually created a moon that tended to be more orange or red in color. If the actual color of the Moon was not blue, then what exactly is a Blue Moon and what does it mean to you?

General consensus is that the Blue Moon is a folklore title. Where agreement seems to stop abruptly is in regard to when the title originated and under what conditions it applies. Like many others I understood the definition of a Blue Moon to be the second full moon that occurs in a calendar month. While this is the current commonly accepted definition, it turns out that this definition is more recent than the original folklore definition.

In researching the dispute, it seems that all trails lead back to the same source, the venerable Sky & Telescope magazine. It seems that a "star quiz" published in 1946 contained a question about two full moons in a calendar month, with the answer being "blue moon". The author of the quiz (L. J. Lafleur) attributed the information to a 19th century Maine almanac. Authors Donald W. Olson, Richard Tresch Fienberg, and Roger Sinnott, obtained copies of the Maine Farmers' Almanac dating from 1819 to 1962 which made reference to Blue Moon occurrences.

An analysis of the information in the almanacs reveals that the Blue Moon title was used to correct "drift" problems with titles of the full moons as assigned for the "tropical year". You may be familiar with such tropical year titles as Harvest Moon, Hunters Moon, or Wolf Moon. As assigned according to the tropical year, which is defined by the solstice and equinoxes as opposed to the calendar year, the titled full moon occurrences must occur in correct succession following each celestial equinox or solstice. Because the moon's cycle of 29 days does not coincide with the 28 to 31 day length of the months in our Gregorian calendar, eventually the occurrence of the full moon would move out of sequence with the associated equinox or solstice events.

The normal three month season in the tropical year has three occurrences of the full moon. However, because of drift caused by the unequal length of the lunar cycle and calendar month, there are occasional seasons where there are four occurrences of the full moon within a single season. As you can imagine, this presented a problem for the publishers of the Farmers' Almanac. To compensate for the drift, the almanac would title the third full moon in any season with four full moons as a Blue Moon. The insertion of the Blue Moon title allowed the lunar cycle and the calendar month to resynchronize in much the same manner that the leap year is used to resynchronize the solar year with the calendar year.

Regardless of which definition you favor, the infrequent Blue Moon is an event that is worth noting.

Read more about it...

Folklore of the "Blue Moon" by Philip Hiscock. This article contains much of the original research conducted into the folklore roots of the title "Blue Moon". The article is well documented with numerous sources cited. You will find it published on the International Planetarium Society Inc., web site.

What's a Blue Moon? by Donald W. Olson, Richard Tresch Fienberg, and Roger Sinnott. This article takes up where Philip Hiscock's Folklore of the "Blue Moon" leaves off. The additional research of these authors peals back the mystery and answers many of the questions left unresolved in Hiscock's article. It is published on the Sky & Telescope web site, where you can read the entire article.

Full Moon Names and Their Meanings is a listing of the titles bestowed upon the 12 seasonal full moons, at least according to the web site. The list includes the Farmers' Almanac names as well as some of the alternative names used by other tribes and/or cultures. It is clear from this list that any given full moon title could vary widely from region to region and was used to reflect recurring local conditions. You can view the entire list on the Farmers' Almanac web site.

Thank you for spending this time with us and we'll see you next month!

Larry Murray

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