Perigee moon

Tonight’s full moon coincides with the perigee of the moon’s orbit around the earth. It’s all very straightforward, scientifically.

From Wikipedia, Orbit of the Moon

The moon’s orbit is elliptical (not circular), meaning its distance from the earth varies, slightly more than 42-Km from apogee to perigee, or about ±5.5% of its average distance from the earth. The ellipse of the orbit isn’t fixed; it gradually rotates (precesses), completing a rotation in just under 9 years. Add the geometric dynamics among the earth, moon, and sun that cause the phases of the moon — and you have a complex geometric problem.

Watching the moonrise, though, transcends all this geometry and physics. Shivering in the chilly evening, I see an orange orb slowly emerge from the clouds. With elevation, the orange becomes the familiar pale while circle that we glance at from time to time, taking it all for granted.

But tonight I wonder over how many billions of years has this scene played out, and for how many eons have human eyes watched this same spectacle and, without the knowledge of celestial mechanics, contemplated the causes. From such musings religions must have been born.

We, who are so bent on the notion that science can explain everything, need a dose of place and humility from time to time. For me, at least, tonight’s perigee moon provides that impulse for reflection.

“Goodnight moon.
Goodnight stars.
Goodnight air.
Goodnight noises everywhere.

Further reading and references:

  • Wikipedia article, Orbit of the Moon
  • Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
  • 50 photos of the full moon from around the world (added March 23)
  • Send to Kindle