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By the Light of the Moon

Autumn’s full moons help dispel the impending darkness

Sunset Friday the 22nd, at 6:17, reveals the full Hunter’s Moon rising in the east. Like all full moons, this one rises with sunset and sets with sunrise, around 7:25 this week. The full moon is always juxtaposed to the sun with earth right in the middle. As sunlight washes over the other side of the world, it spills around the planet, striking the face of the moon head-on. 

Think of yourself in a movie theater, with the projector beaming behind you. That light doesn’t brighten the room, but it does illuminate the screen, just as sunlight illuminates the moon. By contrast, new moon is between the earth and the sun, so it’s like turning around at the theater and being blinded by the projector.

The difference with the Hunter’s Moon — and the previous month’s Harvest Moon — is that it continues to rise close to sunset and set near sunrise for a couple days to either side of full.

Typically the moon each night rises 10 to 15 degrees farther to the east and, as a result, near an hour later. But in early autumn, as a result of the angle at which the ecliptic intersects the horizon, the moon rises more to the north than to the east on successive nights, and as a result appears only 20 to 30 minutes later. In the nights surrounding these full moons, there is little darkness bereft of either sunlight or moonlight. 

Until the last century, people’s movements were dictated by natural light, so these long-shining moons of autumn allowed farmers more light to harvest the last crops and afforded hunters more opportunity to pursue game over the cleared croplands and through the leaf-barren trees of the forests.

On the 22nd, star-like Jupiter shines above the moon. On the 24th you’ll find the stars of the Pleiades cluster just a few degrees to the east. On the 25th, Aldebaran,the red eye of Taurus the bull is a few degrees below the moon.