Night Sky: Solstice facts and fictions

(Flickr/Marlon Malabanan)

The summer solstice on Sunday night is followed by a unique Full Moon on Thursday the 24th, and all of it affects us.

For weeks after the solstice our sunlight scarcely changes in intensity or duration. True, in a major turnaround from the past half year, days are now growing shorter. But only by a few seconds daily. We can keep counting on the 1 p.m. sun to hover within 20 degrees of the exact zenith, zapping us with its greatest strength of the year. We now burn and tan fastest and our shadows are at their minima.

The other realities are that the Sun now rises at its farthest-left spot on the horizon, and then sets at its farthest-right position. This makes sunlight stream into windows at angles seen at no other time of the year. This odd solar behavior was not lost on numerous classical civilizations, especially those that obsessively watched the sky like the Mayans and Aztecs, while it was largely ignored by cultures for whom science and the sky held no particular fascination, like the Hebrews and the Germanic tribes.

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The Full Moon, which always stands opposite to the Sun, will therefore oppose this week’s super-high Sun by occupying its very lowest position of 2021. It’ll stand a measly 20 degrees high on Thursday and Friday nights, when it reaches its apex at around 1 a.m. This lowest Full Moon, easily blocked by hills, trees, or neighbors’ houses, occupies the lowest zodiac constellation — Sagittarius — which looks very much like a teapot. And since low Moons must shine through the thickest possible air, our atmosphere’s reddening effect often gives it an amber or honey color.

The Honey Moon! Since weddings were once traditionally held in June with its amber full Moons, could this indeed be the origin of “Honeymoon?” Scholars think not, but nonetheless see it for yourself if you’re awake Thursday night. You’ll observe the lowest Full Moon of 2021!

So much for reality. The fanciful or mythological part of the story starts with some in the media proclaiming this full Moon to be “the Strawberry Moon.” It’s tempting to think the low height of this Moon and its consequent ruddiness naturally gave rise to naming it after a red fruit. But, in fact, the June full Moon has had no official name whatsoever, and never did. Only the Algonquin tribe called it “Strawberry.” Some Colonial Americans called it that too, but most of them alluded to it as “the Rose Moon.” And many of them labeled it — (bugle call!) — the Honey Moon!!

If you have some Native-American ancestry, then you may be aware if you’re part Lakota Sioux that this was “The Moon of Making Fat.” To the Laguna this is “the Corn Moon,” to the Nex Perce it’s the “Salmon Fishing Time” Moon. The Cheyenne called it “The Moon When the Buffalo Bulls Are Rutting,” though good luck waiting up to hear your favorite TV meteorologist make that announcement. And there are lots more names, too. So whenever an almanac or TV announcer states, “Strawberry Moon” as if it’s an official term of science or even folklore, they’re displaying the “fake science” that should be the last thing anybody ought to be promulgating during these perilous times.

Sorry. It’s probably just the full Moon making me cranky.

There is one comment

  1. Joe Dimattio

    I love the “Honey Moon” allusion to June. Science is under attack from both sides but the moon is in constant sorrow. Keep up the good work!

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