Carl Wernicke: Marvelous Moonrise

Jul 25, 2014

Credit IHMC

The occurrence earlier this month of a so-called super moon, which occurs when a full moon coincides with a close orbital approach to earth, prompted my wife and I to find a good spot to observe moonrise.

We set up our folding chairs on the shore of Blackwater Bay by 8 p.m., anticipating moonrise at 8:03. However, storm clouds suggested less than optimal conditions for observing a celestial event.

But even with the obscured horizon, we weren’t disappointed.

To the north, thunderheads riding an easterly wind provided a dark gray backdrop for a violent lightning storm. Backlit clouds illuminated cloud-to-cloud strikes while an occasional bolt would connect with the ground. Timing the thunder put the storm some miles away.

Over our beach observation point a lone nighthawk chased insects in the fading twilight. On the bay fast-moving lights marked boats headed up the bay, perhaps returning from the Blue Angels show on Pensacola Beach, and running hard to beat the storm. As twilight deepened, green and white navigation lights began to wink on and off on the bay, and lights on radio and cell phone towers began to blink against the gloom.

Off to the northeast some patriotic folks were setting off their remaining fireworks, shooting red, white and green sparks high against the gathering darkness. The cooling breeze pushing down from the storm carried the distant boom of the fireworks to our ears.

In the spirit of optimism we decided to give the moon time to climb the sky before giving up, and soon noticed a glow in a break in the overcast that brightened with each passing minute. As the light bloomed white against the growing darkness we picked up the curved rim of the rising moon, which soon emerged full-blown into the cloud gap. It showed itself off in full splendor for several minutes before disappearing again into higher clouds.

As full darkness close in again I pulled out my newest L.E.D. superlight and began playing it on the water, which produced a curious phenomenon. As I panned the beam across the surface tiny baitfish began leaping into the air, bright silver flashes in the intense beam. This happened wherever I swept the beam. I don’t know if they thought they were leaping into the sun in an act of mass madness, or suddenly could see insects illuminated above the surface and took the opportunity to eat. I don’t know what they were doing, but shining the light skyward did show me one thing: the night air was thick beyond imagining with flying insects; it was clear that the darting nighthawk had been operating in a target-rich environment.

Anyway, the lightning storm abated, the moon disappeared into the clouds, the speeding boats all went home and my wife could be entertained with leaping fish and clouds of insects only so long, so we packed up and went home. There, driving up our driveway was our last show of the night, lightning bugs doing their mysterious morse-code lightshow against the dark understory of the woods.

Anyway, I hope you weren’t expecting some sort of message or revelation here. If so, I will give you this advice: if you haven’t gone out to watch the moon rise lately, I think you should. It’s quite a show.