Xmas 2012 Atmospheric Display & Rilke

Most evenings, my wife Stephanie and I periodically go outside in front of our house in Ocean Beach, San Diego, (facing south) 3⁄4 mile from the ocean and look around, especially at the heavens. We like to see what, if anything, is going on.
This past Xmas night, after a pleasant evening meal with friends, we settled in at home for the night. Then, about 8:15 p.m. (PST), Steph stepped outside and saw the waxing gibbous Moon directly overhead, with a 22° halo around it and, as a brilliant bonus, Jupiter inside the halo and very very close to the Moon. She called me out and as we looked, we saw it was an even more complex atmospheric display than we originally thought. For around the Moon was a corona (a fuzz caused by water droplets in the atmosphere, not to be confused with the quite different corona around the Sun visible during a total solar eclipse). But oddly, the corona brightened a bit at its edge so that there appeared to be a small faint ring about 2° out from and around the Moon. We had never seen that. And just inside this small quasi-ring was Jupiter, maybe about 1.5° from the Moon. And all around this was the huge 22° halo (caused by ice crystals high in the atmosphere).

We had never seen this combination of lunar corona and halo at the same time. Obviously what was going on was that there was a layer of water droplets up in the atmosphere causing the corona, and above that, higher in the atmosphere, a layer of ice crystals causing the halo.

But the display was not over. We kept going out every now and then, and slowly began to notice that the movement east- ard of the Moon was pulling it away from Jupiter, so that the planet was now on the edge of the coronal ring itself. Then, even later, about 10:20, the Moon had moved so far away that Jupiter was outside the coronal ring. Of course, all this was still taking place inside the 22° halo. Quite an intriguing site!

So much so that even one local TV channel of the evening news showed a photo of the Moon and the halo and gave a reasonably accurate account of what caused it. But Jupiter was not mentioned at all and of course, neither was the motion of the Moon. Still, how often does one hear and see something so pleasant from the disaster-riddled TV news?

The next morning, I looked up the info in Astronomy magazine and discovered that earlier the Moon had sailed by Jupiter by a stunningly close 0.4° at 7:00 p.m. EST earlier that evening on the East Coast. Of course, we could not have seen it then, at 4:00 p.m. PST, but how lucky we were to spot the grand lunar, planetary and atmospheric sites later from here in San Diego from our front yard.

Rilke had an intense & abiding interest in & knowledge of all things astronomical.  I give several examples of this in my book “Rilke on Death & Other Oddities,”  Chapter 5.  For example, he often mentions vivid meteors he has witnessed.  Read the pages on astronomy in that chapter for more examples.

Thanks to the Cosmos!  So remember, watch the skies from wherever you are.

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One Response to Xmas 2012 Atmospheric Display & Rilke

  1. Stacey Sasaki says:

    John,
    I’m taking advantage of being home sick to actually read your blog, and am enjoying it enormously. I especially love your description of what you saw in the sky after you left our house on Xmas — you told me (or maybe it was Steph) on the phone, but you wrote about it beautifully and I enjoyed imagining seeing that myself — I wish we had!!!
    Your posts on Rilke, of course, just blow me away. I love that I can read them and get a Rilke-fix. Thanks!

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