Thursday, March 22, 2012

New Moon March 2012

Earlier today, the moon passed the point directly between the earth and the sun, known as conjunction.

While this point of conjunction is now officially the moment of new moon, the ancient writer Philo of Alexandria (20 BC - AD 50) wrote that the festival of the new moon takes place when "the sun begins to illuminate the moon with a light which is visible to the outward senses, and then she displays her own beauty to the beholders" (from the Special Laws II, chapter XXVI ["The Third Festival"] 141).

From this passage, it appears that Philo (and probably other ancients) identified the celebration of the new moon with the evening that observers on our planet could first begin to see the very edge of the illuminated side of the moon (on the actual moment of new moon as defined by conjunction, the non-illuminated side is turned towards us and the illuminated side is facing the sun, so that observers on earth cannot see the moon's illuminated side and therefore cannot see the moon; scholars have determined that the moon must gain at least 7.5° of separation from the sun before its first crescent becomes visible to observers on earth, or sixteen to twenty-four hours after conjunction).

This beautiful monthly phenomenon will take place just after sunset on March 23rd, as illustrated in the second diagram down the page on this helpful webpage from Sky & Telescope for this week. This is the third new moon of the year 2012, with previous new moons having taken place on February 21st and January 23rd (a previous post published on February 23rd described the first visible crescent which could be seen after sunset on February 22nd).

For discussions of the celestial mechanics which cause the first very thin waxing crescent to appear after the sunset following a full moon, and which cause the crescent to grow thicker as the moon lags behind the sun further and further each evening (setting later and later behind the sun on its way to a full moon which is so far behind the sun that it only crosses the center of the sky at midnight), see this previous post.

The video above is also helpful, although the choice of music is somewhat jarring and not what we would generally expect given the subject matter (the importance of music appropriate to different moods is well understood by Hollywood movie studios, and reflects the fact that music has a potent effect on our entire being, discussed in a series of previous blog posts such as this one and this one; the deliberate or accidental juxtaposition of inappropriate tones or inappropriate musical signals constitutes one of the low-level forms of "persistent torture" common to modern life, to use a quotation from John Anthony West).

Interestingly, scientific studies have confirmed that the monthly menstrual cycles of women are most correlated with the time around the new moon (see this report in the US National Library of Health in the NIH website). Another study which looked at four years of telephone-call frequency data from a single crisis-call center found an increase in crisis calls from females during the new-moon period.
These studies would suggest that the motion and position of heavenly bodies, such as the moon, actually have an impact on our human bodies, moods, and behavior. In a previous post discussing the alleged astrological influence of the planet Mars during its period of apparent retrograde motion, we looked at some reasons not to be too quick to dismiss the idea that the physical arrangements of our surroundings (to include our more distant surroundings, such as the bodies in the solar system) might have some influence over our human activities.

Many hunters and fishermen have for many years noticed that the phases of the moon appear to have a measurable impact on the behavior of fish, deer, and other animals. Below is a video from Matt Allen of TacticalBassin discussing the impact of moon phase on bass fishing.

Hope you have the opportunity to look for the very thin crescent moon after the sun disappears below the horizon the evening of March 23rd.