On New Year’s Eve this year, a rare celestial event will be recorded — the second full moon in a month on December 31, 2009. Two full moons in a month aren’t rare because they occur once every 2-1/2 years, but a second full moon in December happening on New Year’s Eve is.
The term that was coined for this is “Blue Moon.” It doesn’t mean the moon will appear blue in the sky, although that did happen late in the 19th century after a volcanic eruption left particulates in the skies for 2 years and created the illusion of “blue moon.” This was also one of the origins of the term “once in a blue moon,” which defines an event so rare it only happens once in a lifetime, or longer.
The fact that the article about the Blue Moon event was the most viewed this morning on CNN is a good thing – perhaps people all over the world will step outside tomorrow night and ponder the skies for at least a moment. They will be mindful that despite everything happening in their own lives and in the geopolitical stage, there are natural cycles that churn away predictably in the background, whether we’re aware of them or not. The moon rises and sets on the horizon. The Earth revolves on its axis. The sun shines day after day, millennia after millennia. So much of this we take for granted, but it’s critical to our existence.
I used to love meditating on the sky at night when I was in my late teens, imagining that there was no atmosphere between me and the cosmos, that I could simply jump up and fly off into the sea of stars. The moon and stars weren’t just objects in the sky in my mind, they were ancient entities of energy and mass that have existed way before humans rose up on two feet and formed clans. The moon and stars are our ancestors. They’re part of the larger home of our Universe.
This New Year’s Eve, go outside at some point after sunset and ponder the moon if it’s a clear night and you can get an unobstructed view. Try to feel your feet on the ground, pretending that there’s nothing holding you back from simply lifting up your arms and flying off into space. Try to see what is making the moon so bright in your mind’s eye: the sun shining on the other side of the planet, casting its glow on the face of Earth’s natural satellite. Feel how it feels to be riding this giant spacecraft, rotating slowly, held in place by gravity, cradled and protected by the atmosphere.
What you’ll see is the past—light from objects that may have long since expired or exploded, or changed. There are things happening in the universe that we don’t know about yet, because we can’t see the light from those events because it’s still traveling to reach our eyes. How does it feel to know that when you look up at the sky at night, you’re not seeing the present? That you’re looking back in time? We don’t experience that on Earth—everything actual object (not photos or movies) we see is in “real time”.
So when you look up at the sky tonight or tomorrow night, remember that. You’re looking into the past, and you’re seeing something that’s been in existence long before you were born, or even before your great great great grandparents were born. Whatever happens in the news or in your own life today, there are natural cycles that occur without any effort from us, that are out of our control, and those cycles both keep us alive and pull us forward toward the entropy of our own existence.