05 July 2011

Moon in Descent

The Moon traces out a path across the sky that is slightly offset from the path of the planets and Sun (the well-known "ecliptic" path). The orbit of the Moon is inclined to the ecliptic by 6 degrees, meaning that at any given point in a month, the Moon might be found in the sky just at the ecliptic, or moving below the ecliptic (up to 6 degrees away from it), or above the ecliptic. As it travels in its 29 day journey around the Earth, the Moon passes through the ecliptic twice, once going down (descending node) and once going up (ascending node).

Since we just finished an Eclipse Season, the Moon's nodes are very near to the points in space where we have New Moon and Full Moon, enough that from the New Moon a few days ago, to the First Quarter Moon later this week, we see the Moon traveling past the descending node and moving well below the ecliptic. Visual proof of that this week comes in the form of Saturn and Spica (see image), both of which are nearly on the ecliptic. The daily change in location of the Moon shows us just where the Moon is in relation to the ecliptic, this week skirting just south (below) this imaginary line in space.


Sidewalk Universe said...

Hey Paul nice write up! One of my favorite astro things is watching Luna race around our sky day by day. Such a wonderful journey it is every month!

The Urban Astronomer said...

I am getting more and more tuned into ascending and descending nodes, Richard. I try to visualize the path against the ecliptic. There are quite wide variations from month to month, and when we enter an Eclipse Season, they all come together nicely!