sliver moon

Sliver Moon XLVII

It’s a new record for delay in a sliver moon report! The sliver moon window will open again on Friday, and yet I’m only now recording last month’s sliver moon sighting.

I’ve seen many a sliver moon since I began this journal, but I believe this is the first one that I sighted from an airplane (and only from an airplane). We’re at the time of year when evening sliver moons should be easy-peasy to sight, the Ecliptic being so close to vertical after sunset; but the whole trick is that too view a sliver moon in the sky, no matter how far above the horizon, it is necessary to have visibility above a mile or two above ground level—and that’s one thing we’ve had over a total of about four hours since last October. No wonder our nighttime temperatures have risen so much in the last couple of decades—it’s solid overcast all night long around here, all the time.

At sunset on February 12 I was peering out the right-side window of a Boeing 737 on the Hopkins Airport tarmac, wondering at the near absence of clouds above. Only a soaring zigzag of cirrus sullied the western horizon. I knew where to look for the two-day sliver moon, but I couldn’t spy it anywhere. Then I realized I was looking too low, and twisted my neck around to get a view straight up. In the upper edge of the window I could see a misshapen, glowing sickle I knew was the sliver moon. Did that count as an official sliver-moon sighting?, I wondered. I mean, photons from the sliver moon fell on my retinas, but I didn’t really see it in the sense that it formed a pleasant image in my mind. Also, I’d nearly slipped a disc trying to look upward enough; a real sliver-moon viewing shouldn’t cause that much pain.

Figured I’d have a better chance a while later, en route, as the sliver moon slipped nearer the horizon. Then realized I was sitting on the north side of the plane during our hop to Chicago. Eeps.

Fortunately, we angled south for a couple of minutes while getting lined up on the approach path, and I was rewarded with a crystal-clear Cheshire Cat moon in a midnight-blue sky. Below, a layer of stratus clouds hugged the earth so closely that it must almost have looked like fog from ground level. I imagine that’s what home has looked like for the last four months or so.
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Sliver Moon XLVI

I really hate insomnia. Overall, I’m getting an adequate amount of sleep; but in any one night I’m getting either two hours or twelve hours, with nothing in between. Luckily, it’s only a matter of time before my wildly oscillating sleep schedule dampens down and I can reliably zonk out more or less through the night again.

One side benefit, though, is that I’m in a good position (i.e., sitting up in bed, reading) to catch an early-morning sliver moon, as I did last Sunday (11 November): a bright sickle of a two-and-a-half-day sliver moon, well to the left of an early-rising Venus. ’Twas an especially welcome sight after those two weeks of unremitting overcast skies culminating in the high winds, lashing rain and general power-outageness of Sandy.

If you happen to be awake during the predawn hour on Tuesday, 11 December, you may be in for a special treat: a sliver moon riding along a string three planets—Saturn, Venus and Mercury (listed from high to low). Viewing from the US West Coast, you’ll see Venus and the moon just about in conjunction (actual time of conjunction 8:08 AM EST, 13:08 GMT). And Mercury will be bright enough (magnitude –0.6) to see even when the rising sun has considerably lightened the sky; brighter than any star in the vicinity, and in fact brighter than any star in the northern sky except Sirius (which will be setting around the same time in the southwest). I may even set my alarm to get up and see all this, provided that the insomnia has backed off my then.
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Classic Comix

Some 20 years ago now, the brother got me hooked on The Furry Freak Brothers, the adventures of a trio of California hippies whose motto is, “Dope will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no dope.” It’s not quite subversive enough to make it a true underground comic, but it’s unlikely to appeal to a very large segment of the American population. I was therefore delighted to find that it had managed to rub off onto the spouse a little bit. That I can credit mostly to a single, one-page Freak Brothers episode that has spawned no fewer than three Things We Say in Certain Situations.

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Sliver Moon XLV: Blue Moon Edition

In honor of today’s blue moon*—the last until July 31, 2015—I’m posting my last sliver moon sighting a full two weeks late. This time of year, an evening sliver moon is nearly impossible to see this far north unless you have a good view of the western horizon and a crystal-clear sky—and most of the time I’m 0 for 2. I must rely on my almost superhuman insomnia and finite bladder capacity to get me up before dawn, two days before the new moon, and on 15 August that’s exactly what happened. Sometime around six in the morning I got up and spied a perfect two-day sliver moon hovering above the neighbors’ huge tree silhouetted in the east, with Venus blazing away a bit higher up.

If you see the dazzling full moon tonight, also look for the Summer Triangle high and to the west (of the moon). If you orient the three bright stars to form a V, the star at the point of the V is Altair, with Deneb and Vega at the top left and right, respectively.

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*The full moon occurred just before 10:00 AM EDT (13:58 GMT) August 31. If you live in North America and saw the moon last night (August 30/31) after midnight, it was closer to full then that it will be tonight.
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Sliver Moon XLIV

Alas, it’s getting to be the time of year when evening sliver moons are exceptionally difficult to spot before they set. Luckily, last Saturday’s two-day sliver moon was but a couple of hours short of a three-day crescent; so not only was it still in the sky a half hour after sunset, but since it was blazing away at magnitude –7.2, it easily punched through the veil of cirrus clouds obscuring the small part of the western sky not blotted out by thunderheads.

I came back out about fifteen minutes after first sighting, and I saw half a sliver moon above the silhouettes of trees down the block. That’s the first time I’ve actually spied a sliver moon in the act of setting since we moved from Seattle.



You early birds will be in for a treat the morning of 15 August. Before sunrise, a two-day sliver moon may be visible in the twilight, accompanied (at a respectable distance) by Mercury, near maximum elongation (the point in its orbit when it makes the greatest angle with the sun as viewed from Earth).
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Sliver Moon XLIII

The weather over the last month has alternated between “tolerable” and “infernal.” Last Thursday was definitely the latter, with a high temperature over 90 °F and dew point well into the 70s. On a day like that, you have to put your Slurpee on an entire mound of towels, or the lake of condensation will engulf the tabletop and run off directly into your lap.

Late in the afternoon, and knowing that the forecast predicted thunderstorm activity, I checked the Doppler radar in case I needed to delay my ride home. Looked like we were going to get clobbered, but not ’til well after I got home. The bad news was that the storms would arrive just in time to obscure the two-day sliver moon.

I should have known. Every time we’re promised a good thunderstorm on a hot, muggy day, and a huge squall line appears to be bearing down on us, it either swerves southward at the last moment, or dissipates. I looked out to the west just after sunset, and above a shelf of rapidly dispersing cumulus clouds, there rode the two-day sliver moon, just visible as a cream-colored sickle in a periwinkle sky. (Periwinkle was one of my favorite Crayola 64 colors.)

As I write this, one week later, we’re trying to cool off from an afternoon that reached 96 °F at the local airport. Now midnight, the temperature has plummeted to a brisk 88 °F, and the dew point to a parched 75 °F. Oh, well—sleeping won’t be any more difficult than in our hotel room in Maui a few years ago. Time to crank up the ceiling fan to “Full Gale.”
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Nostalgic Board Games, Mk. II

One reason I haven’t been posting much to LJ this year is that I’ve been spending far too much time on line surfing BoardGameGeek. I don’t have anywhere near the level of sheer obsession displayed by many BGG regulars, who boast of owning over 500 games and post pictures of entire rooms devoted to storing their collections. Nonetheless, I enjoy learning about new games (of which I’ve ’blogged before), and when someone asks a probability/statistics question on the forums, I delight in racing to figure out and post the answer before anyone else does.

I was first exposed to BGG while looking for references to obscure games I played in my early childhood. A long while back I wrote about two of them, genuine, drug-inspired products of the 1960s. I’d like to tell you of two more that were more difficult to track down: I remembered hardly anything about them, least of all their names..



Several of us in my first-grade class got to cut out for part of the school day and play games, because we could already read and do basic arithmetic. Not that we were super-geniuses, or anything—at least some of us were destined to mediocrity as high-school students; it was just that our parents had been unusually involved in teaching us stuff when they should have been doing more useful things like sitting semi-comatose in front of the TV. We didn’t entirely goof around: we played educational, primarily math-related games. One that we didn’t like very much was Tuf, a maths dice game in which players tried to build the longest mathematical equation. All but the most basic arithmetical dice completely stumped us. We didn’t know anything about percentages or grouping by parentheses, let alone logarithms and all the other scary stuff on the orange die. We played a different math dice game that I enjoyed much more. All I remember about it was that it used a big handful of dice marked with numbers between 1 and 18, and that using higher numbers scored more points. What’s the chance I’d actually find the game in the BGG database?

Pretty good, actually. One evening when I was putting off work I called up all the mathematical games using BGG’s search function. I could thin the herd by about two-thirds right off the bat, since my game had to exist in the early 70s, but many didn’t have publication dates, so I still had to scan though several hundred possibilities. And there it was! Unlike Tuf, Heads Up provided the equations; all you needed to do is fill in the numbers using the dice. And sure enough, using larger numbers scored better: the score was the total of all numbers in correct equations. I was wrong about the upper limit, though: the numbers only went up to 15.



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Staring at the Sun, for Fun

Woohoo—I got to see Tuesday’s transit of Venus with my own eyes!

I’d been waiting for the day ever since I missed the transit of 2004: it was over before sunrise on the American West Coast. Lots of amazing pictures appeared on the ’Net. I remember best this iconic photo, taken at dawn on the Florida coast:



Google honored the event with a custom icon.



Several months ago, I bought a couple of Solar Viewers—really just pieces of #14 welder’s glass in frames—in anticipation of this week’s transit. I gave them a test run during the annular eclipse on May 20. The eclipse hadn’t even started when the sun slid behind the ever-present stratus clouds on the western horizon, but I still gained some wisdom, for I was reminded of something I already knew, but didn’t appreciate: the sun is actually very small in the sky, when reduced to its actual disk. I knew full well that the sun and full Moon are about the same size as viewed from Earth, and I had read that both appear about the same size as a US quarter at a distance of nine feet (2.7 m), but, really, it isn’t as big as I felt it should be. I started to wonder how I’d ever see Venus—only a third the sun’s distance, but only 1/120 its diameter—against the solar disk without magnification. Venus’s apparent diameter should be about 1/40 the sun’s, I figured. But the planetary silhouettes in both the Florida photo and the Google icon look much larger than that. Also, the frame of the Solar Viewer advertised that it was good for viewing planetary transits*—which means Venus, since there is no way Mercury would be visible against the sun without considerable magnification (not to mention an above-entry-level solar filter). So, would I see Venus or not?

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Sliver Moon XLII: Transit of Venus Edition

Again, I’m way late with the sliver moon update. I have not had much fun this week, but that’s a long story (and a rather disgusting one).

I wasn’t sure I was going to get to see last Tuesday’s two-day sliver moon, even after the sky cleared up in the afternoon: I was scheduled to have dinner with my two semi-bosses and a visiting scientist from Harvard, a VIP with whom we hoped to collaborate on eye-disease research. The dinner wasn’t scheduled to begin until 7:30, and as the most junior member of the party by far, I doubted I could skip out early just because the sun had set and there were sliver moons to be viewed. As it happened, our table had enough of a view to the west that I could gauge when the evening sky had darkened enough for good sliver-moon viewing. When the dusk had progressed enough that the first stars would likely be visible, I excused myself as if to go to the bathroom, strolled off in a dignified manner until I was out of view, and then sprinted outside, into a courtyard with a decent view to the west.

There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, but for some reason it was midsummer hazy. Odd, given how unsettled the weather had been all day. The sliver moon and Venus, almost side by side, were well above the horizon but already starting to turn Creamsicle orange; the moon looked very slivery, indeed, despite being two full days past new.

We adjourned around 9:15. Venus and sliver moon had by then deepened to a lovely, full orange, and the moon’s “horns” were beginning to disappear in the haze.



I missed the great eclipse of 20 May, sigh; it began here almost precisely at sunset. (If I’d known about it enough in advance, I’d have scheduled a trip out west with a stop in, say, Reno, to view the annular eclipse. I plan to watch two total eclipses, on 21 August, 2017 and 8 April, 2024 (which won’t require any traveling!); I need to put the annular eclipse of 14 October 2023 on the agenda.) However, weather permitting, I’ll be perfectly situated to watch next Tuesday’s transit of Venus. I bought a couple of “Solar Viewers”, really just pieces of welder’s glass in frames, specifically for the occasion. You don’t want to miss the transit if you can help it—the next one won’t occur until 2117!

(Transits of Mercury are much more common—fourteen during the 21st century alone—but there’s no way you could see one with equipment you can buy for twenty bucks.)

While looking for the local time of the transit, I stumbled across this really handy site that shows precise times and the apparent path of Venus across the face of the Sun. I hadn’t appreciated just how much the Earth’s rotation curves the path; at the equator, Venus actually traces out a loop near the edge of the Sun’s disk.

Aw, crap. The site has an embeddable transit simulator, but when I tried to place it on this page I only got a big black rectangle. Oh, well—you should try it out.
sliver moon

Sliver Moon XLI

Last Monday’s sliver moon was so easy to spot—a late, two-and-a-half-day waxing sliver moon only a month from the spring equinox—I feel kind of embarrassed taking credit for it. But sliver moon sightings are seldom enough around there that take credit I will.

We’ve had two kinds of days in April: butt cold and midsummer hot. Monday evening was one of the former, and also very windy. The sliver moon rode above a raft of stratus-like clouds that, even from miles away, had a distinctly shredded, wintry appearance. Have you ever been on final descent in an airplane in the early evening, and as a curtain of silhouetted clouds sweeps up toward you, you see how the cloud tops, from up close, don’t really have sharp outlines, but rather are sort of ragged and wispy? The western horizon looked just like that, but from a distance. It must have been a hurricane up there.

I looked again, about 45 minutes later, and the moon had descended well into the cloud layer. It was all fuzzy and indistinct, as if dissolving in the murk.

If you get a chance, try and find Venus in the west after sunset. It’ll be easy-peasy if you can see the sky at all. You’ve probably been seeing it for months; Venus has been the brightest object in that part of the sky (apart from an itinerant crescent moon) all spring, and this week it’s at its most dazzling. More amazing still, it won’t set until well after 11:00 PM, unless perhaps you live in the easternmost portion of your time zone (Boston and DC, perhaps).