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A Tricky Moon for Beaches and Equinox Celebrations near Oregon Coast

Published 09/15/2016 at 5:21 AM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

moonrise at Depoe Bay, central Oregon coast

(Oregon Coast) – A host of interesting stellar aspects are coming to the skies of Oregon, which also mean some astronomy celebrations in the Oregon coast range and the Gorge. The Harvest Moon will make a big impression, there are two star parties this Saturday, and the autumnal equinox occurs next week. (Above: moonrise at Depoe Bay, central Oregon coast).

All this coincides with the season that features the best weather of the year on the beaches – and more whale sightings.

For those on the beach on Friday, you may notice the moon being much larger than normal. September 16 brings the Harvest Moon to the state, and OMSI astronomy expert Jim Todd said you'll see it rise as a large orange full moon above the eastern horizon. This happens at 7:16 pm, followed by sunset at 7:35 pm in the west.

In coastal towns like Newport, Manzanita, Cannon Beach or Yachats, this moonrise will be later because of the coast range to the east.

“The orange color of a moon near the horizon is a true physical effect,” Todd said. “When looking toward the horizon, we are actually looking through a greater thickness of Earth's atmosphere than when looking directly overhead. The atmosphere scatters blue lisht (the reason the sky looks blue). The thickness of the atmosphere in the direction of a horizon scatters blue light most effectively, but it lets red light pass through. So a moon near the horizon takes on a yellow, orange or reddish hue.”

Why it appears larger than usual is simply a trick your eyes play on you, called “the moon illusion,” Todd said. He said that while scientists are still not sure of the explanation, they believe it has something to do with how the brain is wired, and for some reason perceives a moon close to the horizon as bigger.

Above: stars move overhead at Manzanita..

Scientists have proven that no matter where the moon is, it always forms an image about 0.15 mm wide on the retina in the back of your eye.

OMSI is holding two star parties on September 17 – one in the coast range at LL. Stub Stewart State Park and Rooster Rock State Park in the Columbia Gorge. These start at sunset.

The party is free with $5 parking per vehicle parking fee. From beginners to experts of all ages, it's an opportunity to view the stars and other objects through a variety of telescopes. Viewing highlights include Venus, Mars, Saturn and more.

Rooster Rock State Park is located 22 miles east of Portland on I-84 just east of Sandy River at exit 25. To reach L.L. "Stub" Stewart State Park, take US-26 west of Portland and turn right on OR-47. It is suggested that interested visitors check for possible weather-related cancellations. Warm clothing and a flashlight with red light are recommended. Personal telescopes and binoculars are welcome.

Fall officially begins with the autumnal equinox, which happens on Thursday, September 22.

This brings some fascinating aspects to Oregon, and around the coast, according to Todd.

“At that point the Sun is directly above the Earth’s equator, and the significance of this is that every point on Earth will, for one day, experience nearly 12 hours of darkness and 12 hours of daylight,” Todd said. “The Sun rises due east and sets due west on the equinox. At the South Pole the penguins will be celebrating the first appearance of the sun in six months. By the same token, at the North Pole the polar bears will be bracing themselves for six months of darkness.”

For the Oregon coast, the most significant feature of all this is what is called the “second summer,” referring to September and October being the warmest time of the year on the beaches.

These calmer conditions bring more whale sightings. In central coast towns like Newport and Depoe Bay, gray whales have been very visible close to shore. Up north, in areas like Seaside or especially at the mouth of the Columbia, Humpback whales have been spotted quite often. Where to stay in these areas - Where to eat - Maps and Virtual Tours


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