Blue Moon, Dark Moon, Nose Moon, Tail Moon

What is a Blue Moon?

The year 2018 is a Blue Moon bonanza! There was one in January and one on March 31st. The next one won’t arrive until October 2020. But, don’t worry… we’ve got 3 other types of moons lined up for you.

A blue moon tinted blue to make it look like the moon is actually blue. A blue moon means 2 full moons in a calendar month.
A Blue Moon. (This image was tinted to make it blue. No, a Blue Moon is not blue.)

The Basics

A Blue Moon happens when there is a Full Moon on the 1st* day of the month and a Full Moon on the last* day of the month. Two full moons in one month!

In other words, a Blue Moon is when there is a full moon twice in the same month. These two full moons always happen on the 1st or 2nd and the 30th and 31st of a month. “Blue Moon” is just a name for the second moon in that month – the moon does not turn the color blue.

Read on to learn about how the Blue Moon came to be and some suggestions for giving the other moon phases “Blue Moon” style names when they appear twice in a month. Suggestions are: Dark Moon, Nose Moon, and Tail Moon.Click here to continue reading…

Astronomy Koan

Astronomy Koan – Definition

A family views the visible orbit path of the earth.
A family views the visible orbit path of the earth.

An astronomy koan is a short, easy-to-memorize phrase that distills a key teaching about astronomy (especially physical astronomy).

The words are simple enough for a child to learn, but they carry complex insights about scientific observations.

The astronomy koan is a mnemonic that has layers of meaning or presents an ambiguous or challenging observation in a pithy phrase.

Try memorizing one of these – you can bring these with you everywhere.

Four Physical Astronomy Koans


That star rose earlier today.

The moon moves toward the dawn.

Night is where you are.

Same Sun all night. Dusk to the left, dawn to the right.


What do you think about these?

Do you know any astronomy koans?

Share your ideas in the comments section.

Stellarium – Find the Humanity Star

A new satellite called the Humanity Star looks like a disco ball

Update Apr. 1, 2018.

The Humanity Star is no longer an active satellite – it has fallen out of the sky: https://www.theverge.com/2018/3/22/17144208/rocket-lab-humanity-star-satellite-new-zealand-astronomy

However, even though the Humanity Star is now gone, this article still teaches you how to load satellites into Stellarium. So, read on for a quick tutorial on how to track any satellite in Stellarium.

Looking for information on how to track the Humanity Star any satellite location using Stellarium astronomy software?

Here is a quick tutorial on how to find the Humanity Star any satellite using Stellarium.

You can track the position of the Humanity Star with Stellarium
The Humanity Star satellite before launch – still on the Earth.

Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck announced that the company’s rocket had placed a special satellite in a 90 minute orbit around the Earth.

A lot of people want to see this new “star” in the sky. Stellarium can help you do that.

If you don’t have Stellarium, you can download a copy here. And I have a few tutorials that can help you get started with this amazing piece of software.Click here to continue reading…

Quiz – Can we see the Sun at midnight? Where is the Sun?

Can we see the Sun at midnight?

Yes. We can see the Sun at midnight. But, only if we are at one of the polar regions during the Summer season.

Image of the Sun's rays hitting the Earth. The Earth is tilted 23.4 degrees. Summer is when the northern hemisphere is titled toward the Sun. The summer Sun never sets - not even at midnight - if you are north of the Arctic Circle.
You can see the Sun at midnight! If you are at the North Pole in summer.

A quiz – seeing the Sun at midnight – don’t scroll til you try to answer!

When you see the Sun “rising” in the morning at dawn you are facing the east.

When you see the Sun “setting” at the end of the day you are facing the west.

Assuming you are not above the Arctic circle and not too close to the equator… if you could look right at the Sun (when the night is exactly half over) – by looking through the Earth – which cardinal direction would you be facing? East, West, North, or South?

Looking north or south to see the Sun at midnight?
A compass rose showing the cardinal directions.

Click here to continue reading…

See Mercury and Venus orbits during the day

Your hands and arms help you see the orbits of Mercury and Venus and the shape of solar system

Question: If you could see the orbit of Venus would it fill the whole sky?

The answer might surprise you!

You can use your hands and arms to see the size of the orbits of the solar system’s inner planets: Mercury and Venus.

Imagine (as pictured below) if the orbit of Mercury were visible as a red oval and the orbit of Venus were visible in green.

Use your hands and elbows to see Mercury and Venus orbits any time of day or night. The orbits of Mercury and Venus can be seen.
Two hand spans show Mercury’s orbit, elbows show Venus’s orbit.

Physical Astronomy – see Mercury and Venus orbits

Caution! Do not look directly at the Sun without proper solar safety glasses on.

Turn toward the Sun, hold your arms out straight, hands up in the air with fingers spread wide and thumbs touching. Your pinky fingers now span the width of the orbit of Mercury and your elbows span the width of the orbit of Venus.

Both of the entire orbits of Mercury and Venus orbits would be visible in the sky all at once – if they could be made visible during the day.

Click here to continue reading…

Galaxy Rise

Physical Astronomy by Daniel Cummings

A still more glorious dawn awaits Not a sunrise, but a galaxy rise A morning filled with 400 billion suns The rising of the milky way.

The Sun rises. The Moon rises. Stars rise. The Galaxy rises – twice.

Each day the Earth rotates and sky objects (seem to) rise in the Eastern sky. The Sun, the Moon, the Stars, and the Galaxy rise at various times.

The Sun “rises” once-a-day at the start of the day.

The Moon “rises” once-a-day at different times of the day and night depending on the moon’s orbit around the Earth (its phase).

The Stars “rise” once-a-day – all night long, one after another and in groups.

The Milky Way Galaxy “rises” twice a day – once on its bright (center) side and then 12 hours later on its dim (outer arm) side.

We can orient our bodies to the rising of the Milky Way. And we can experience our daily movement as “plunging through” this flat disk of stars.

Click here to continue reading…

Walk to Mintaka

Physical Astronomy by Daniel Cummings
Mistakable rises toward the zenith as you walk toward the equator
As you walk toward the equator, Mintaka appears to rise higher in the sky.

In this post we will learn how to use one bright star of Orion’s belt to visualize the Earth’s equator.

Mintaka is a Star in Orion’s Belt

When you look up at the winter sky in the northern hemisphere, Orion and his famous belt are impossible to miss. The belt is made up of three stars of equal brightness.

One of these stars is called Mintaka and it is a guidepost for finding the Earth’s equator in space. Click here to continue reading…

Arms around the ecliptic

Learn to see the ecliptic

Physical Astronomy by Daniel Cummings

Ecliptic Arms

The sun follows the same path through the sky every day.

Sun up. Noon. Sun down.

The sun starts the day in the east in the morning, rises high in the sky at noon, and settles down again in the west for a nap at night.

See the ecliptic

Here is an exercise to discover that path – the ecliptic.

Click here to continue reading…

Groundhog Day Shadow Tracker

Physical Astronomy Tool by Daniel Cummings

Groundhog Day Shadow Tracker Lesson Plan
It’s Groundhog Day!

What better way to celebrate Groundhog Day than to Build your own Groundhog Day Shadow Tracker

Let’s do some Physical Astronomy. The experience will help you to understand the movement of the earth and sun through the seasons. You will build a scientific instrument that is also a fun garden decoration and you will be able to track the Groundhog’s Shadow all Spring!

Click here to continue reading…