Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Supermoon

I thought people were making some stupid joke about naked buttocks when I started hearing about a supermoon this week. In fact it seems astronomers (and astrologers) were totally excited by this phenomenon. I took my lunch break at Rest Beach with a Coke Zero (caffeine is my friend during Spring Break Chaos on night shift) and my trusty pocket camera.I sat on the bench at the water's edge and contemplated the shining white disc overhead. I have to say it looked pretty much like any other full moon I've ever seen, all round and white and everything. Had I not known it was the largest such moon seen in 20 years I would not have noticed the extra light shining around me. I am not all sure it was extra bright in any useful way but I suppose one has to join in the Hallmark merriment of the occasion. Besides there isn't going to be another supermoon until November 14th 2016.In fact humans wasting energy lighting up the Great Outdoors still made brighter light than our supermoon event.The ocean south of Rest Beach looks pretty bright but I had the camera sitting on the table, with a two second delay and the shutter set to open for ten long seconds to get the desired effect. The two second delay gives the camera the opportunity to settle down and stop moving after I fat finger the shutter release.When my wife and I (and our dogs) were out sailing I always had mixed feelings about full moon nights. On passages they were comforting at some level in the hope that I might actually be able to see something if it should appear up ahead of our traveling home, but those were the nights when being on watch meant the sky was devoid of stars and galaxies and all the paraphernalia visible on new moon nights.The supermoon was 221,565 miles from Earth, or 356,575 kilometers. I grew up with the notion that the sun is 93 million miles away and the moon a quarter million so I guess that is, astronomically speaking, quite close. Perigee came and went and despite predictions of calamity by people who believe in the supernatural. However some nutters connect natural disasters with supermoons giving rise to suggestions that the Japanese tsunami- earthquake fiasco may be connected in some way. Which would be odd as the moon was miles further out at the time.Even as I sat minding my own business at Rest Beach pondering the moon up there with it's human footprints and space debris on the surface from here to eternity a whole bunch of people in Libya were going up in flames. That knowledge alone, never mind radiated spinach in Japan and a whole new oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico and Iran getting pissy with Saudi Arabia, was enough to make me glad to be here and now and doing nothing more invasive than enjoying a lunch break. Hell I have a job, with a mythical pension and health benefits. Hip hip hooray, all that seems improbably fortunate in a world hell bent on wrecking absolutely everything.And let's not forget the Bonneville, closing in on 50,000 miles and running as sweet as ever.Summer time has moved the dawn back to close to seven o'clock in the morning (and dusk to almost 8pm- lovely!) so my ride home across the Overseas Highway now takes place at night essentially. I felt compelled to stop my headlong plunge into the night and whip out my camera for a few more unsupported pictures (my gorillapod was conveniently in the shed at home). Puny headlights below, and the supermoon above...which is brighter?It was when the ridiculously named Hale-Bopp comet was visible overhead almost twenty years ago that I realised something that struck me as profound at the time. I was living in California at the time and Santa Cruz is a horrible place to observe the heavens. marine inversion, commonly known as fog, blankets the night skies most of the time and yet despite all the odds I was out walking the dogs and there it was- a streak of white in one distant corner of the sky. But I had to look for it. It occurred to me that in centuries past people had been overwhelmed and awed by these natural phenomena. They noted comets passing in the history books, they fell to their knees and prayed to the gods to spare them.These days we create so much artificial light we can barely see what is going on overhead. I am always grateful that my street has no lights, and when my neighbors come down from Up North and light up everything with their ghastly spotlights I pray, as only an atheist can pray, for a power outage.The night skies down here have their own magic on full moon nights of any kind. The clouds float overhead like they do everywhere and illuminate the sky with their reflected light. But down here in the sub tropics the night is warm and in summer it's a relief from the heat of the day. One can observe the moon in a t-shirt with no fear of hypothermia.For that same reason I like riding at night, the warmth of the night air makes it pleasurable, the darkness makes it mysterious and the power of the headlight gives one a fleeting feeling of control in the tiny cone of light. It amazes me how easily we continue to move through storms, fog, darkness and snow, we endeavor never to lose our mobility. In Japan I read of people living lives of devastation, lack of gasoline, no food and feeble shelter in the bitter winter cold. yet, people living two hours away by car are affected by power outages and "non threatening" levels of radiation while their neighbors pick through garbage to assuage their visceral hunger.And all of this is powered by cheap abundant energy- take away the affordable oil and it turns out we end up back in the Middle Ages. No gasoline means no food, no jobs, no modern industrialised comfort.

Were my seven inch headlight to go dim I'd be by the side of the road picking my way on foot along the trail, by the light of the supermoon, praying to the Gods to keep me safe. Better that perhaps than continuing to hope that human ingenuity can keep us safe without blowing us all to Kingdom Come in one big tsunami powered radioactive fireball. Not to worry they tell us, it's all quite safe, which might as well be an incantation to unseen gods who power supermoons and direct our lives from the outer darkness of outer space. The light of the moon we know is quite safe. The light from our human reactors, not so much.