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The Final Full Moon of 2014
Week of Nov. 30 — Dec. 6, 2014
The year's final full moon comes at 4:27 a.m. PST (7:27 a.m. EST) on Saturday, Dec. 6. However, when it rises over the northeastern sky on the night before or after, it will be a beautiful sight.
To the eye, the full moon commands great respect. Not only does its rising orb appear much larger than it actually is — an effect called the "moon illusion" — but its brilliance obliterates all but the brightest stars and planets. It's truly hard not to pay attention to the full moon!
But what most beginning sky watchers don't realize is that the full moon is the absolute worst time to view our nearest cosmic neighbor with a telescope, since the sun's direct rays cast few shadows on its surface and give it a rather flat appearance.
Binoculars or the naked eye, however, may reveal some fascinating features. For example, we see that the lunar surface is not uniformly bright but, instead, has a mottled appearance.
The lighter areas are mountainous or heavily cratered terrain of higher elevation, and we call them the "lunar highlands." The darker areas are roughly circular in shape and cover much of the moon's face. Some ancient sky watchers believed these were lunar oceans, and named them "mare" or "seas," a name they still carry today, even though we know the moon is a totally dry and barren world.
We also know that the mare are huge plains of solidified magma that welled up from deep within the moon after violent impacts during its early evolution, and flooded the lowest terrain.
It is the interplay between the lighter lunar highlands and the darker mare that creates another illusion we call "the man in the moon." Some imagine that the two lunar plains — the Sea of Serenity and the Sea of Tranquility — make up his left eye, while the Sea of Rains forms his right eye. A mountain range known as the Apennine Mountains forms the bridge of the man's nose and, below, a collection of seas form his large, crooked smile.
At least that's what people tell me. If you can make out a man's face from this maze of light and dark, you're doing much better than I. I can see a man sitting in a chair reading a book, as well as a rabbit — and even a frog. But no man's face.
Watch the moon later this week and see what patterns you might be able to find among its geological features. See if you can trace the profile of a pony-tailed young lady wearing a diamond pendant. Why she looks to me like Wilma Flintstone is anyone's guess. ... I'll just leave it to all the amateur psychologists out there to figure out what this cosmic Rorschach test says about me.
Visit Dennis Mammana at www.dennismammana.com. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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