Last week I stumbled upon Frank Winter’s blog, Photos and Thoughts from My Journey. There he was reflecting in a post about the beautiful full moon we enjoyed in Cancer on January 3rd – our first full moon of 2007. If you visit his post, you’ll see in the comments a note about school children being assigned to moon gaze, and the parents who tried in vain to help them locate the silvery orb in the sky.
Moon gazing is something essential in my life, and an important source of inspiration. I typically know whereabouts the moon should be and when (regardless of cloud cover), and I usually have a general sense of which sign the moon is in without having to look at my ephemeris. Upon reflection, I feel that this really comes from many years of practice and joyful moon gazing.
From the comments in Frank’s post, I realized that many people who aren’t nightly moon gazers might be unaware that not only does the moon wander around the horizon, but she also follows a regular cycle of changing times for rising and setting which repeats itself through each moon cycle. Here’s a leg up on how to look for the moon in your area.
When does the moon rise and set?
The moon is “new” or “dark” when it occupies the same general space in our sky as the sun. Astrologers refer to this as “conjunct,” when two objects are in roughly 0-8 degrees of one another. When this occurs, we cannot see the moon, but it is in fact rising and setting with the sun.
As the moon grows past new, you will begin to see it early in the morning, rising a little later after sunrise each day, and setting a little later each afternoon/evening.
When the moon swells to full, it is roughly 180 degrees opposite the sun. Astrologers refer to this as “opposition,” when two objects are roughly 180 degrees apart from one another in our sky. This allows the sun to fully illuminate the face of the moon, which rises full roughly after sunset, and parties the night away to set until sometime in the neighborhood of dawn.
Once the moon begins to wane, it continues to rise later and later into the evening, until you find it rising a bit before dawn, hanging out most of the day, and setting before sunset. The cycle completes itself with the next new moon, and begins again.
This general cycle will help you know when to expect the moon to come up according to its current phase.
Seasons and latitudes affect our sunrise/sunset times, and as the moon walks the horizon from north to south and back again, the arc the moon travels will change; it will also change from year to year. Watching the moon regularly where you live will help you to slowly gain a general sense of where the moon travels across the sky, and when you can plan to look for it.
If you need extra help finding the moon, that’s ok! Here are some tools to help you online:
1) Your local news paper or tidal information resource will often provide moon rise and moonset times.
2) John Walker’s Your Sky tool is one of my absolute favorite tools on the internet. Input your location, and you can see the stars, constellations, planets, sun, and moon as they wander across your sky in realtime.
3) US Naval Observatory Phases of the Moon will help you to know when the moon is in what phase anywhere on the Gregorian calendar.
When you’re just starting out with your moon gazing practice, keeping a small journal is incredibly helpful. If you want to have some real fun with it, use black construction paper and white conté crayon so you can sketch the shape of the moon as she waxes and wanes!
If you have any questions, let me know and I’ll do my best to offer some suggestions! Happy lunar-looking!