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The lunar standstill is a moderately rare event that has less to do with astronomy than it does with geometry.

Tonight and tomorrow (March 23, 2006 and March 24, 2006 respectively) are the highest point that the moon will be from the (average) Earth's horizon for approximately 50 years. The standstill can be thought of as the opposite of both the solar eclipse and lunar eclipse.

On these nights, the moon, which will be a last quarter or waning moon, will be a full 28 degrees above (or below, depending on the hemisphere you live in) the celestial equator. The moon moves in a slightly elliptical orbit (in relation to the Earth) so variances do happen. It is simply a matter of tonight being the most extreme variance for the full moon.

Interestingly, the spectacle doesn't end there. Lunar cycles are, like, cyclical in nature, man. In 14 days, when the waxing moon is presenting the opposite reflection of the Sun's light to this ball of dust we live on, it will be the LOWEST the moon will be for approximately 28 years.

"What does this have to do with anything?" I hear you ask. Good question! While the common teaching of astronomy in schools has made events like this obscure, in pre-mathematics days civilisations based their calendars, religions and even fertility rites around the actions of the moon. There have been a number of megalithic sites that serve a common function for MOST of the year, decade or century, but serve their full purpose on nights like these. Similar to the pyramids which allow light to flow through special openings on certain solstice days, there are a number of sites, predominantly in western Europe and the British Isles and Mesopotamia that "work" only on nights like tonight.

Stonehenge is one of the most famous megalithic/monolithic sites for lunar use for calendaring. The Aubrey holes, 56 "small" stones with holes set in them, are thought to be part of the first phase of construction in Stonehenge. These have been shown to predict eclipses to a good degree of accuracy, and have also been shown that when combined with other stones in the archeoastronomy structure, can identify lunar standstills.

So tonight, if you are able to, head outside, pray for a clear sky, and observe a wonder of Nature, and think back to our ancestors, who maybe knew a bit more about this world than we might imagine.


Bibliography:
  • Triple J, Mornings with Zan Rowe. Dr Karl Kruszelnicki, March 23, 2006, 101.3MHz (FM, Canberra, Australia).
  • The Stars and The Stones. Ancient Art and Astronomy in Ireland. Martin Brennan, (Thames & Hudson 1983).
  • Lunar Standstills. Jean Elliott, DFAstolS., RCAstrol., http://www.skyscript.co.uk/lss.html
  • Sun, Moon & Stonehenge. Robin Heath (Bluestone Press, 1998).
  • The Secret Language of the Stars and Planets. A Visual Key to the Celestial Mysteries. Geoffrey Cornelius and Paul Devereux. (Duncan Baird Publishers. 1997).
  • The Standing Stones of Europe, A Guide to the Great Megalithic Monuments. Alastair Service and Jean Bradbery, (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 1996 edition).

Comments:
Bitriot says: Interesting. Nice going.
Response: Thanks! I heard it on the radio as a passing remark, and did a bit of digging. I've missed pretty much every eclipse/meteor shower and Halley's Comet was a fuzzy blob on a cold night when I was about 5, so this is pretty cool for me...
Bitriot says: Same here. Astronomy's the best subject in the world. But I never see any of it. :) Cheers.

water says: great writeup, thanks for sharing that information!

Berek says: ++ nice one!!

Book Reader says: Cool. I've always liked astronomy. I will certainly watch the moon tonight.

Please note:
While Lunar Slingshot IS a fake entry for RumourQuest 2006, the lunar standstill IS NOT fake. It is a real phenomenon, and can be confirmed by the bibliography material. One is a true fact, the other a fanciful extension of my over-active imagination.

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