Moon Shot

The moon was big and lovely the other night.

I didn't check, but it may have been at its perigee, the point at which its elliptical orbit brings it closest to us. That word and its opposite, apogee, refer to any planetary body in relation to Earth, not specifically the moon, and they've stuck with me since my highly enjoyable 6th-grade geology/astronomy class — along with the more euphonious terms for our proximity to the sun over the course of Earth's annual revolution: perihelion and aphelion (pronounced not "ap-heel-yin" but "ah-feel-yin"; think the Irene Cara number from Flashdance). Wikipedia gives terminology for the distances of objects orbiting various heavenly bodies at the entry for apsis, and there are a trinity of pairings variously used to describe something — a NASA lunar shuttle, say — in orbit around the moon.

Our full moon the other night was a Buck Moon, I learned from the 11 o'clock news, as July is when deer push out new antlers. The only full-moon nomenclature I'd known before this was October's Harvest Moon, thanks perhaps to its continued relevance or simply my affinity for the month of my birth. You can find a full list of the full moons' traditional titles and variants at the Farmers Almanac website or on the National Weather Service page from which the above image of a Harvest Moon was taken.

I referred to the low, big, golden-orange moon as a paper moon when describing it to my mother, thinking that this term came from its curious resemblance (despite its actual density) to the rice paper aglow in a paper lantern. This would seem to not exactly be the case; the term paper moon refers to a spherical paper lantern — meaning that the kind of moon we call a paper moon has, in life imitating art imitating life, been named after a paper lantern that resembles a moon! The film Paper Moon and popular standard "It's Only a Paper Moon" have also worked their way into our collective consciousness, of course.

The moon has given us numerous evocative songs, almost all of which, along with the haunting beauty of the moon in our sky itself, strike me as more moving than the desolation of the moon's surface, setting of the new film Moon. But more on that in my next post.

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