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Chasing A Special Moon Up Highway 101: Oregon Coast Astronomy Adventures

Published 06/13/22 at 5:25 PM PST
By Andre' GW Hagestedt

Chasing A Special Moon Up Highway 101: Oregon Coast Astronomy Adventures

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(Yachats, Oregon) – As part of a publication about the Oregon coast, sometimes you wind up doing the most curious of things. You have to chase stories now and then, but in this case there really was considerable chasing – in an actual vehicle. And as always, when you set little missions like this for yourself, you wind up encountering visual surprises. (Photos Andre' GW Hagestedt)

It all took place one year on the central Oregon coast, starting about 8 p.m. on a Saturday night in September. It's still somewhat warm on these beaches at this point of the year (Second Summer), and the skies are mostly clear in the Yachats area. The comely little place looked like this above: dozens of different colors glowed like surreal Christmas lights on the other side of the bay, reflected in its waters. Above it, a powerful moon lit up the sky to the point it was almost imitating another blue hour of dusk. The sky wasn't black: it was a dark blue. Entrancing.

This remarkable sight was due to a Harvest Moon, and it gave me cause to try and capture it in various spots along Lincoln County, resulting in some 40 miles of roaming in search of this photo essay.

Just days earlier I had talked to Jim Todd, astronomy expert at OMSI in Portland. He said September's full moon is called the Harvest Moon, referring to the fact it's the full moon that comes closest to the first day of fall. The autumnal equinox happens on or around September 22 every year, so the Harvest Moon can occur just past or just before the equinox.

On this particular year, the Harvest Moon hit its full phase at 8:19 p.m., right about the time this photo was taken. It's the full moon over the Yachats River.

Todd said this moon would first appear as a large orange full moon in the east, just before sunset. At this part of the central Oregon coast, there were too many mountains to the east to see that. But it did poke its head over the hills east of Yachats just after sunset, a bit after 7 p.m.

“The bigger-than-usual size of a moon seen near the horizon is a trick your eyes play on you, called 'the moon illusion,' “ Todd said. “The illusion is a matter of perception, a trick of the brain, which perceives the Moon when seen overhead as closer than the Moon seen at the horizon. When an object is perceived to be nearer, the brain may compensate by making it look smaller to us. Likewise, an object thought to be farther away will be seen as larger.” Hotels in Yachats - Where to eat - Yachats Maps and Virtual Tours

Like the shot of Yachats at the top, there are times the moon makes the rest of the landscape look different, and that is more important than the moon itself. A bit closer to 9 p.m., the moon cast this ethereal glow at Beachside State Park, between Yachats and Waldport.

Around 9 p.m., in Waldport, the moon had this commanding look in the sky. Hotels in Waldport - Where to eat - Waldport, Seal Rock Maps and Virtual Tours

About 9:35 p.m., this was Newport's Yaquina Bay and its bridge, framed by the glow of the moon and the twinkling of the city.

Again, there are moments when what really shines about the moon is the way it interacts with the Earth. Case in point: a restaurant's dockside outdoor section that was not only bathed in moonlight but awash in the dreamlike colors from lights around Yaquina Bay. Hotels in Newport - Where to eat - Newport Maps and Virtual Tours

Skipping ahead a few hours, to the wee hours of Sunday morning, the moon and the Whale Watch Center in Depoe Bay seemed to be getting along nicely. Hotels in Depoe Bay - Where to eat - Depoe Bay Maps and Virtual Tours

Photographs like this are one of the many aesthetic pleasures we derive from our sister heavenly body. But in ancient times, the moon was even more important, Todd said.

“Before the advent of artificial lighting, our ancestors were acutely aware of the daylight hours waning more rapidly around the autumnal equinox - the time when the Sun rises due east and sets due west - than at any other time of year,” Todd said. “But back then, people also understood lunar behavior, harvesting by the light of the Moon.”

Below: a closeup of the moon from Oregon Coast Beach Connection's camera team.



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Andre' GW Hagestedt is editor, owner and primary photographer / videographer of Oregon Coast Beach Connection, an online publication that sees nearly 1 million pageviews per month. He is also author of several books about the coast.

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