John Switzer: Full moon to start the new year will feature familiar view of asteroid impacts

John Switzer, The Columbus Dispatch

Every time there is a full moon and the skies are clear, I am compelled to grab my camera and take a picture.

You very seldom see anything that can rival the beauty of a full moon floating in the night sky. In fact, I have a blown-up picture of a full moon hanging on the wall beside my bed, so every night I go to bed under a full moon. That’s restful.

The guy who runs my photo studio can develop my moon pictures so that the features on the moon are enhanced. After a few dozen pictures it finally dawned on me — you see I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer — that all my full moon photos have the same surface features on them. I called Tom Burns, the director of Perkins Observatory in Delaware County and asked him if the same side of the full moon always faces the earth. He said that is true and explained why.

It is because the gravity of Earth has the full moon locked in that position. You can see those surface features for yourself with your naked eyes, Burns said.

The features we see on the face of the full moon were caused by the impacts of giant asteroids billions of years ago, he said.

Burns then told me something about the moon that I considered a bit disturbing. He said the moon’s gravity is also having an effect on the earth.

The length of a day on earth is very slowly growing longer because of the moon’s gravity. “Our day is getting longer by a fraction of a second every year,” he said.

“Give a few hundreds of millions of years and a day will be a year long. This will be bad news because in hundreds of millions of years the Earth will be a pretty dead place.” he said.

By the way, January’s full moon will be Monday, New Year’s Day. The January moon is the wolf moon because in the days of yore, now is when packs of hungry wolves came near settlements in search of an easy meal. Now was not a good time to let your dog outside at night alone to do his business. It was also a good time to have a loaded gun handy if you had to go to the barn to feed the cows.

Full moons will be a specialty in January. The moon will be full tomorrow and also on the 31st.

Then in February there will be no full moons at all. That happens only rarely, Burns said, because February has only 28 days, less than a moon’s complete cycle.


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