Portland, Oregon Astronomer Explains Low Summer Moon, Weird Colors
(Portland, Oregon) – One weirdly colored moon that hangs awfully low in the sky. Anyone else notice it along the Oregon coast, or any other part of Oregon? (Above: Manzanita at an unusual summer moonrise.)
If you did, you're not alone. In fact, it's a condition that will linger around the Oregon coast, Bend, Portland, Eugene, Ashland – indeed the rest of the northern hemisphere – for the much of the summer, if not longer.
To top it off, the science behind this odd display has a little something to do with the famed but rare Green Flash at Sunset along the Oregon coast.
One Oregon science expert can explain why all this is happening this summer. Jim Todd, with Portland's OMSI, said the full moon nearest the summer solstice (coming up in a few days) is the lowest full moon of the entire year, and it has some interesting colorations to it.
Todd said the Moon rises and sets, just like the Sun. Like our life-giving star, which is at its highest at noon, the Moon is at its highest point in the sky around midnight. Also like the Sun: its height varies during the year as well.
“And because Full Moons occur when the Moon is directly opposite the Sun, you can imagine the Moon and Sun as sitting on either sides of a celestial see-saw,” Todd said. “On the day when the Sun is highest in the middle of the day (in Summer), the Moon is at its lowest high point at midnight. And on the day when the Sun is at its lowest high point in the middle of the day (in Winter), the Moon is at its highest high point at midnight.”
Todd said this means, in practical terms, that Summer “Full Moons” are always very low on the horizon, while Winter “Full Moons” can be very high overhead.
For the Equinoxes in March and September, both the sun and full moon at their highest points will be at 45 degrees for this region, Todd said.
“Compare this to the 'Full Moon' for June when the Moon barely grazes 21 degrees above the southern horizon, and you can see just how low the midsummer Full Moon can be,” Todd said.
Those lingering awhile after sunsets along the Oregon coast about now will notice the moon has a honey or champagne color.– and of course this is visible in Portland, Eugene, Bend, Ashland and the rest of the state This stays throughout the summer.
In fact, the names of the full moon reflects the color it appears: Strawberry Moon, Rose Moon, or Honey Moon.
Summer moons can have even wilder colors, however.
As it approaches Earth, the light of the moon passes through the atmosphere. When the air is clear and the moon is overhead, the light rays all reach the Earth, and so the moon appears white.
Todd said the moon gets really orange when the summer sky is dusky or polluted because its light has even more trouble getting through the atmosphere.
This cuts out some of the colors along the way, creating something called refraction – where the light wavelengths get deflected off their path, leaving only certain bands of the spectrum visible. The shorter wavelengths get bumped out along the way, like blues, greens, purples, etc.
“The strong light waves that do make it are (you guessed it!) red, yellow and orange - the colors with the longest wavelengths,” Todd said.
More Oregon Coast Science and Astronomy here and below.
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