Shine On Harvest Moon

Folks of a certain age (which includes yours truly) grew up singing “Shine On Harvest Moon” along with Mitch Miller and his bouncing ball.  On You Tube, a wonderful and humorous version of this song is sung by none other than Oliver Hardy, with Stan Laurel soft shoeing in accompaniment.

More to the science of it, the Harvest Moon is defined as the moon closest to the autumnal equinox.  This moon just occurred the night of September 30th, and was captured, by a Chicago Tribune photographer, framing the statue on the top of the old Montgomery Ward’s administration building.  As a child, my dad comically deceived us into thinking the statue was that of a monkey, hence “Monkey Wards”.

My understanding of the Harvest Moon is that it was used by farmers to extend their harvest past sundown.  In any event, the moon lies low to the horizon, and so looks large, because of the moon illusion.  Further, the moon looks yellowish and gauzy, because it shines more directly through the atmosphere of the eastern horizon.

Why is the Harvest Moon so low in the sky when it rises?  The answer is that the Moon and the Sun both track the ecliptic, and thus the full moon is “two seasons advanced” in angular declination relative to the current location of the Sun.  Since the Sun is shining over the equator on the autumnal equinox, the full moon will have a corresponding zero declination over the eastern horizon at sunset (6 PM standard time).

I hope you enjoy the You Tube video as much as I did.  Click on the picture to learn how it was taken.


Author: Bob Mahoney

Physics teacher

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