Saturday, December 13, 2008

Skywatch: Perigee Moon

I'm a day late for Skywatch Friday, but for once I don't have to chalk it up to my organizational challenges. I waited a day on purpose--so I could catch the perigee moon.

It was as if Friday's clouds prepared for the event all day, urging us to keep eyes on the sky.

These are the woods to the back of the house--the area decimated by Hurricane Isabel. But we're literally seeing the silver lining. The heavy woods would have blocked most of these cloud formations from our view.

So I'll get to the perigree moon in a moment--as I move from nature's sublimity to, well, what I like to sublimate. We weren't the only ones watching the sky, it seems. When Salix, Ranunculus and I walked down to the river, we saw these local denizens sky-gazing as well.

Yeah, those are buzzards on the gate to the boat ramp--or, as they prefer to be called, Cathartes aura (which seems way to lovely a way to denominate turkey vultures). There are collective nouns for vultures, and some of them are brilliant--a looming, a wake, a volume--but I'll go with my favorite: a committee of vultures on a gate like this is a fairly rare sight. They congregate at night, in the tops of trees; otherwise, they're usually looking for a meal or eating one (and we saw no carcasses around). But I'll anthropomorphize and assume that they, too, were mesmerized by the sky--that is, until they caught a glimpse of Ranunculus and his petters.

But back to what these skies were forecasting. Perigee moons happen once a month--the "perigee" (as opposed to the "apogee") is the point at which a body in orbit is closest to what it orbits--in this case, the moon to the earth. But perigees are relative--in one month, the moon can be closer than it is in another month--and they can happen during any phase of the moon. Last night's perigee moon was special because it was a particularly close one and it occurred during a full moon, making it appear 14% larger and 30% brighter than it has since 1993 (that's according to NASA, so I'm sure they used their largeness- and brightness-measuring technology.

Me, I just had my camera. This is my much-photoshopped-and-nevertheless-still-lame attempt to shoot the moon late last night:

But this picture, taken at sunrise this morning, comes closer to capturing the impact. That bright light is the moon.

Happy skywatching--now I gotta get ready for Bloom Day (and prove I still have a garden . . .)


Cameron (Defining Your Home) said...

Beautiful moon, wasn't it? Just amazing.

Those buzzards, we jokingly call "Chatham County Eagles" are here. Actually, we have real eagles.


tina said...

Thank you for explaining the moon thing! My friend at the Thursday Christmas party was telling me that this month's full moon was to be the biggest of the entire year and I had no idea why. Now I know. It was so bright and still bright. I just loved it and the information. Your pictures are so beautiful of those winged denizens of road kill.

Anonymous said...

I really love the shot of the moon this morning peaking through your trees. I've been seeing alot of those Turkey Buzzards in my neighborhood lately. Must be looking for a meal.

Gail said...


A lovely night to be by the river, even with the committee keeping tabs on you! I can't believe how beautiful the moon looked last night and so bright...I may stop by the NASA website to see a collection of shots! Your morning photo is wonderful! Gail

Les said...

I love the shot of the vultures taking flight. They may not be pretty to us, but that does prevent them from enjoying a good thermal when they find one, soaring in all their ugliness.
By the way, which river is yours?

Cosmo said...

We have real eagles, too, Cameron, but I'm afraid these guys are a far more common sight (mainly because the eagles stay high and over the river). The moon was incredible--I have to learn to take night shots--though the sky was so bright that it woke me up at 2.

Hi, Tina--Umm, I'm not convinced that a much better photographer than I am could ever make a vulture beautiful--I'm actually afraid of them, so I was a little shaky when I took the photos. The moon thing was so neat--in a different life I might have been an astronomer (like, the life in which I understand physics . . .)

Cosmo said...

Hi, Racquel--The buzzards are as common as crows around here--I really hate it when they're on the property (and it's deer season, so they're around a lot). I was happy to get that shot of the moon--none of the ones I took in the dark came out.

Hi, Gail--Actually, if you google "perigee moon" you'll get some incredible amateur shots of the moon. I only wish I could have captured the way it lit up our woods.

GardenJoy4Me said...

That was a wonderful work up to the moon shot ! Those buzzards would make me a bit nervous ? LOL
The clouds were great .. I am a cloud fan : )
The moon was so bright last night but too over head for me to see it .. just the glistening snow on the deck .. it looked like we had millions of diamonds sparkling there .. it was breath taking : )
Loved all your pictures !

Cosmo said...

Hi, Les. We're a mile from the York (and about 3 miles from the main entrance to York River State Park, though the park itself extends into our neighborhood). I actually think the vultures are gorgeous in flight--if they're way up, I can't tell them from eagles. But when they're down on our level, I really have to be in a VERY natural philosophical mood to appreciate them (I'm afraid of them, to tell the truth). Still, seven of them together confabbing on a gate was pretty cool, and I've never seen that flash of white on their backs before.

Cosmo said...

Hi, GardenJoy--This moon has had fabulous effects, but I can't seem to take a night shot--I need to go to camera school or something. Downside is, we don't have curtains or shades on our bedroom windows (the bedroom is upstairs and we live in the woods)--normally we love the vista, but the light's been keeping us up at night!

Phillip Merritt said...

Loved the vultures!

Bek said...

What a great moon picture! I also found that it's really difficult to get one in complete darkness (unless you have a tripod). As ugly vultures can be, I think they are magnificent birds to watch!