Summer is closing in now. The air is fragrant at night, the days are more humid, and I really need to mow the yard as soon as possible. On Friday, June 5, the moon will be full and rise pink as an unripe strawberry. In fact, June’s full moon is known as the Strawberry Moon, and for good reason. This is when the strawberries ripen. While I’ve seen the flowers around, I’ve yet to spot any ripe berries. But the month is young.
The moon will shine from Ophiuchus the serpent-bearer on Friday. A small portion of this large, zodiac constellation pokes between Scorpius to the west and Sagittarius to the east. Constellation boundaries used to be vague, but when they were standardized in 1930, Ophiuchus’s territory included a part of the ecliptic, the path followed by the sun, moon and planets in the sky. The moon spends about a night here a month.
A full moon always lies directly opposite the sun in the sky so that when the sun sets, the moon rises. Sunset and moonrise times are rarely exactly the same because the moment of full moon rarely occurs at the same instant as local sunset, but they’re close enough. Visit timeanddate.com/moon to find your moonrise time. In Duluth, you'll want to be in place about 9 p.m. Friday. For best viewing, find a location with a clean view of the eastern horizon. The closer to the horizon you can catch the rising moon, the more curious things you’ll see.
Both the color and distorted shape of the rising moon are caused by the atmosphere. No matter where you live, the air you breathe scatters away blue, purple and some of the green light streaming from the moon (remember that white light is made up all the colors of a rainbow) so we see it rise orange and yellow. The atmosphere also acts like a prism and bends the moon’s light upward from the horizon. Thicker air nearer the horizon bends the bottom half of the moon more than the top half, lifting and “squeezing” the bottom of the moon into the top, deforming it into a watermelon or bean shape.
Local weather conditions stamp their own unique signature on the moon’s appearance. Multiple, stable layers of air can cut “steps” into the sides of the orangey orb. Temperature inversions — where warm air flows over cooler water or ground — make the moon look like a sticky, melted marshmallow as it pulls free of the horizon.
"Astro" Bob King is a freelance writer for the News Tribune. Read more of his work at astrobob.areavoices.com.