Astronomers tell us the exact time the moon is full: 5:11 this morning. But, of course, we can enjoy its sight and the moonlit landscape and the wondrous silhouettes of the trees for the next few nights.

Just thinking about the moon is fun. Probably no other celestial object is held in greater affection, unless it’s our closest star, the sun, which is the source of moonlight.

The moon is linked to romance in our culture. We watch it go through all of its phases during the month, and find beauty in all of them. Our most important tool for measuring time — the calendar — was designed around the moon’s phases.

The average month of 30 days coincides closely (but not exactly) with the 29 days, 12 hours and 44 minutes it takes for the moon to make a complete circuit around Earth. So the period between phases — from one full moon to the next, for example — is close to 29½ days.

The distance to the moon is about 239,000 miles. Full moonlight is so bright that it obliterates four-fifths of the stars we might otherwise see with a naked eye on a moonless night.

A gift of a telescope opens up a whole new world for a child or an adult. However, I have learned over the years that the gift of helpful instruction in exploring the night sky is much more important than owning a telescope.


Jim Gilbert’s Nature Notes are heard on WCCO Radio at 7:15 a.m. Sundays. His observations have been part of the Minnesota Weatherguide Environment Calendars since 1977, and he is the author of five books on nature in Minnesota. He taught and worked as a naturalist for 50 years.