The idea of “correspondences” or sky-cycles coming together still has wide appeal. That’s why dozens of TV specials and books have desperately tried to find something celestial – some rhythm or event – that will happen just when one of the Mayan calendars turns a page on December 21, 2012. Too bad for them: Nothing’s occurring then. And I do mean nothing, zero, nada – which has forced the sensationalists simply to make stuff up.
To the Mayas, December 21, 2012 is merely the first day of the 14th b’ak’tun; Mesoamerican researchers characterize the portrayal of that date as a cosmic shift or Doomsday event to be a complete fabrication. Bad luck for the Armageddon-pushers: They would have been in Nirvana if the 14th Mayan b’ak’tun happened next week.
First we have the “King of the Gods” Jupiter arriving at its closest point to Earth since John Kennedy was in the White House; this will be on Monday night, the 20th. Jupiter’s “opposition” – when it’s in line with Sun and Earth – is the morning of the 21st, so you can expect some of the media to say that this “historic close approach” is Tuesday night. They’ll be wrong, but it scarcely matters; we’re talking about a few miles’ difference between Monday and Tuesday.
Then we have the seventh planet, Uranus, reaching its closest to Earth of 2010 that same night, Monday night – even if nobody cares. Still, it means that Uranus will be just above brilliant Jupiter in the sky, looking green through binoculars against the faint stars of Pisces, which resembles fish the way I resemble Brad Pitt.
Then there’s the Autumnal Equinox, at 11:09 p.m. on Wednesday night, the 22nd. Then there’s the Full Moon – the Harvest Moon – that same night! In fact, the Harvest Moon falls a mere six hours after the moment of Equinox.
All of these have actual visual, observable consequences, which I’ll get into next week. For now, here are the headlines, the highlights:
All of the action is in Pisces: Jupiter, Uranus, the Harvest Moon, everything. This means that all those bodies rise where Pisces does, due east rather than southeast or northeast, and they all come up at sunset. They all reach their highest of the night at 1 a.m., when due south and halfway up the sky.
Jupiter is the brightest “star” in the sky after night falls around 8 p.m. It is out all night long. It is brighter at magnitude -2.9 than it has appeared in 47 years. It also looks bigger through a backyard telescope than anytime since 1963. Yet it has undergone bizarre transformations lately, easily seen with just 80x; we’ll discuss those next week.
Having the Harvest Moon coincide with the Equinox boosts its effects. As I’ve explained periodically on this page since 1975, the Harvest Moon looks no different from other Full Moons. It’s neither larger nor redder, nor does it occupy an unusual spot in the sky. Yet it acts uniquely. Normally the Moon rises 50 minutes later from night to night. But the Harvest Moon appears much sooner than that each successive evening. Result: Harried farmers trying to complete harvesting tasks now enjoy welcome moonlight as soon as the Sun sets.
Because of this Equinox/Harvest Moon coincidence this year, the Full Moon rises only 22 minutes later between next Monday to Tuesday and again from Tuesday to Wednesday. If you see it rise (at sunset, remember), you are viewing the Harvest Moon Effect – the only thing that makes it unique.
So bang those drums: Historic Jupiter approach, the Uranus visit, the Equinox and the Harvest Moon, crammed together – and just for good measure, the time when the Sun and Moon both rise and set precisely due east and west as seen from everywhere in the world. And did we mention the start of autumn?