If you are anything like a typical Bookmans employee you stand out in your yard at 3am and wonder what is wrong with the moon. This behavior could also be linked to growing up in Tucson. Little desert kids spend lots of time looking up, or laying on the ground staring at the night sky, possibly because there is so much to look at. Arizona has long been a hub on astronomical research with the University of Arizona’s Flandrau Planetarium and Kitt Peak. In lieu of deeper psychological exploration which might expose our potentially embarrassing fascination with standing in our yards late at night we will just say it’s typical for Tucsonans. We do things like this.
Folks from Michigan go fishing, we stand around getting a kink in our necks. We therefore notice things, things that aren’t right – like the moon. Just before the new year, around Dec. 18th, some of you might have also been standing in your yard noticing that the moon was wrong. Totally wrong. It was getting smaller like usual but it was disappearing from the top down. Initially it looked like cloud cover was simply obscuring the top quarter of the Moon but NOPE. It kept doing this strange thing night after night. It actually was waning (your first technical term; it means getting smaller, yeah I had to look it up to be sure) from a horizontal position. Wrong. No, no, the moon is supposed to get smaller – or larger – from left to right or right to left, depending upon the phase and where you are on the planet. We will try to cover all of this but it gets messy.
The point is that we are all familiar with the crescent moon. It is a reassuring image, we understand it (kind of). We at least have seen it before but this top down disappearing moon is a problem. It’s a good thing we have a bookstore like Bookmans to help explain it. Here is the deal, it happens. We aren’t crazy, at least not because of the moon, and others did see it too.
It is called the sideways moon (2nd technical term). Here is your big technical explanation: “the ecliptic is tilted, but it never flips over itself, so the only time the sun and moon are at the same azmuth is during a new moon. 6 hours away just means they are 90 degrees apart in azmuth and that is only loosely connected to when they will rise or set. What it does mean is that if the sun is due west right now, the moon is due south right now and 6 hours from now, the sun will be due north and the moon due west. But depending on the tilt of the ecliptic for your season and location, the sun, the moon, both, or neither may be up at either of those times.” Reference https://www.physicsforums.com/threads/sideways-moon.203670/ .
Shockingly enough that makes sense, even to us. Then again we know a lot about these things because we live in Arizona and look at the sky. It is a tremendous relief to know that the Earth had not slipped off it’s axis or that the moon was spinning wildly out of control ready to crash into the sun or something. This was a close call however and a warning to all of us, we better get to Bookmans and pick up some books on astronomy. It seems that simply staring into the night sky isn’t always enough. We took our own advise and found some books that made us feel safer, and smarter!
40 Nights to Knowing the Sky by Fred Schaaf is subtitled A Night by Night Skywatching Primer. This work is perfect, it includes charts, graphs, photos and plain explanations to why we shouldn’t panic when we see a sideways moon. It also includes information about astrology, the brightest stars, the ecliptic and the zodiac, and how to NOT observe a solar eclipse. That last bit is probably especially important for us, just saying. Next is Spring Forward, the Annual Madness of Daylight Saving Time by Michael Downing. We really love this book because we don’t do Daylight Savings Time so we can sit back and laugh while the rest of the country tries to figure out their clocks and watches. Yeah, who’s crazy now? Last is Astronomy for Dummies by Stephen P. Maran, 2nd ed. The best part of this work are the color photos included. We also appreciate how straightforward it is and easy to follow. So don’t worry, don’t panic, we can explain everything to you. We have a large Astronomy section that will plainly cover all these strange things you seen in our desert sky. We can even explain those aliens, yes we saw them too, they are out there. That is a different section though, just ask us, we’ll talk.