Projecting the Sun’s Light
Full moon is like a celestial movie screen
As the sun sets, Venus beckons above the west horizon until it sets around 9pm. This evening star is losing ground, setting a little earlier each night.
Saturn is in the southwest at dusk and sets around midnight. Don’t confuse its steady golden glow with twinkling Spica a dozen degrees to its east.
Jupiter, Mars and Mercury command the pre-dawn sky, appearing in a spread-out line in the east-northeast. Jupiter is the highest and brightest, while Mars — in the middle — is the faintest. Mercury easily outshines Mars, but it is nestled so deep within the glare of the coming dawn that you’ll need exceptionally clear skies or binoculars — or both — to see it.
Thursday evening, the waxing gibbous moon shines alongside the fiery star Antares, the heart of Scorpius, in the south at sunset and sets around midnight. Friday and Saturday, the moon shines above teapot-shaped Sagittarius. Monday finds the nearly full moon amid the dim stars of Capricornus the sea goat.
Monday the moon rises full in the east as the sun sets in the west, illuminating the night until dawn the next morning. August’s full moon is called the Sturgeon Moon, the Red Moon, the Corn Moon or the Grain Moon.
As the moon orbits the earth, every 281⁄2 days it is directly opposite the sun as seen from earth. At this point, these three celestial orbs are fully aligned, with the earth smack-dab in the middle. The sun’s light streams around earth, spilling onto the face of the full moon and illuminating it, much in the manner a movie projector casts the light of the film over our backs and onto the screen for us to see. As the alignment of the three shifts from 180 degrees, part of the moon’s face is cast in shadow, giving us the phases of the moon, culminating in new moon, when the moon is between earth and sun, invisible against the blinding light.