Friday, March 07, 2008

Bow, take a bow

Wednesday's gathering of Venus, Mercury and the Moon in the dawn sky was breathtaking. Now the Moon has slipped close to the Sun, but young Moon enthusiasts -- like me -- wait for the new Moon to appear in the evening sky. That just might be tomorrow evening, when hereabouts the new Moon will be about 32 hours old -- eyelash thin, but easily doable if the western horizon is clear. This is the time of the year when the Moon's path is tipped most vertically to the horizon, which brings the crescent higher above the horizon at a younger age. Any Moon less than 30 hours old is wonderfully thin and barely visible in the darkening sky. The record for seeing a new Moon with the naked eye is about 15 hours old, but I have never been out of the low 20s.

And while we are pondering the young crescent Moon, consider these lines from Coleridge's Ancient Mariner:
We listened and looked sideways up!
Fear at my heart, as at a cup,
My lifeblood seemed to sip!
The stars were dim and thick the night,
The steersman's face by his lamp gleamed white;
From the sails the dew did drip --
Til clomb above the eastern bar
The horned moon, with one bright star
Within the nether tip.
The last line suggests the sort of thing you see on the Pakistani flag, and the flags of some other Moslem countries -- a star within the dark of the Moon. But of course this is impossible, as is apparent with a very young Moon when you can see the dark part of its face lit by earthshine -- sunlight reflected from the Earth. The Turkish flag gets the star part right, but (like the Pakistani flag) gives the crescent too much of a grasp; the horns of the Moon's crescent do not extend beyond a diameter.