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Brighter Skies But Dimmer Moon: Summer Official on Oregon, Washington Coast

Published 06/15/21 at 5:41 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Brighter Skies But Dimmer Moon: Summer Official on Oregon, Washington Coasts

(Long Beach, Washington) – The summer solstice means a lot of things around the northern hemisphere and to the Oregon coast and Washington coastline. It's the true astronomical beginning of summer, first and foremost, and that brings on a host of fascinating little tidbits about the region. One trippy little fact is that you'll start to see moons that aren't as bright, including the full Strawberry Moon that happens shortly after summer solstice.

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Jim Todd from Portland's OMSI is the astronomy expert in the region, saying the solstice officially begins on June 20 and 8:32 p.m. This is when the Earth is tilted so that the north pole is at its closest to our sun.

“Yet, the earth will be at its farthest distance from the sun, called aphelion, on July 5,” Todd said.

At that exact moment of solstice, that's when the Earth's axial tilt leans in at a maximum of 23° 26'.

“Though the summer solstice is an instant in time, the term is also colloquially used like Midsummer to refer to the day on which it occurs,” Todd said. “Except in the Polar Regions (where daylight is continuous for many months during the spring and summer), the day on which the summer solstice occurs is the day of the year with the longest period of daylight. Thus the seasonal significance of the summer solstice is in the reversal of the gradual shortening of nights and lengthening of days. The summer solstice occurs in June in the Northern Hemisphere and in December in the Southern Hemisphere.”

On that summer solstice day, the sun will reach its highest northern point in the sky at 67.54 degrees from the horizon. As a result there will be more minutes of sunlight in the northern hemisphere than there are at any other time of the year.


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Along the Oregon and Washington coast, if you're heading out on that day from your inland home you'll experience a few more minutes of sunlight – even more if you count the flat, unobstructed horizon. Sundown happens anywhere from four minutes to nearly 10 minutes later than places along the I-5 Corridor, depending where. The difference between Portland and spots like Seaside or Long Beach, Washington is about seven minutes, and places like Bandon vs. Medford will be a little less.

On June 24 comes the full Strawberry Moon and a few months of moons that are lower on the horizon and dimmer. Todd said you may have already noticed the stark difference between that and winter's moons that are high in the sky and much brighter.

Along the coastlines of Washington and Oregon, this will mean some extra interesting photos at night or at dusk if the moon happens to be low then. These moons are often extremely wild colors and appear much larger when low on the horizon.

“On June 24th, the full moon will reach its highest point of 18 degrees for our latitude this month, due south,” Todd said. “Despite being at its highest in the sky, viewers may struggle to see it, as it is very low in the sky. In fact the full moon nearest the summer solstice (June 20 or 21) is the lowest full moon of the year. Plus, notice the champagne color as it rises from the east.”

Todd said the moon rises and sets just like the sun, coming up around the east and setting towards the west. It reaches its highest point due south in and around midnight, but just like the sun, the maximum distance above the horizon of the "full moon" varies over the year.

“And because full moons occur when the moon is directly opposite the sun, you can imagine the two 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. 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.”

Why does the moon appear as honey or champagne colored during the summer months? When the moon is low on the horizon, it's actually much farther away from you than when it is overhead, so its light has to travel through a lot more atmosphere to reach you.

Along the way, some of the colors (blue, green and purple) get refracted (deflected off their path because of their short wavelength), by the particles in the air. The strong light waves that do make it are red, yellow and orange, the colors with the longest wavelengths.

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