Guest post by Doug Hansmann

Denise and I are planning to break ground for our new house 16 moons from now.

OK, I could have said we’ll start building on May 20, 2012.  It marks the end of the same time period.

..(Photo credit:

There is a seemingly endless list of details to keep track of as we plan the building of our small, sustainable, innovative solar house. We don’t want to drop the ball on any of them.  So for the past year Denise and I sit down to create and update a list of shared priorities every new moon.  We call it our Moonster List.  You see, we’re over the moon about this project, and we like to sustain our original enthusiasm with a cyclical celestial kick-start.

Who doesn’t love the image from Twas the night Before Christmas … “The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below.”  I’d emphasize the luster more than the mid-day.  Moonlight creates a soft, cool glow deep into the woods in a way no artificial light can.

We’ve been spending time with the moon in all seasons and all phases.  It is a real delight to be outdoors in the woods  at night in a  familiar setting.   We are designing our house with an eye towards  appreciating the moon’s route through the sky.  Check out my post on how moon viewing and passive solar design compliment each other.

The words month and moon come from the same root.  As a measure of time, a month was created to reflect the period of one moon revolution, but the fact that there are about 12 lunar cycles per earth year is totally random.  There’s no celestial rhyme or reason for orbits of planets and moons to conform to any matching pattern.

The average month goes on for 30.4 days, while the average lunar cycle takes 29.5. With 12 lunar months falling about 11 days shy of a solar year, it was clear to early calendar makers that there’d be trouble trying to rectify our two best known orbits.  Hence the Julian calendar was established by the Romans in 45 BC.

Goodbye, heavenly time keeping.

Hello, slavish adherence to the wall calendar!

The cycles of the moon are on a roll of celestial coincidences this winter.  There was a total eclipse of December’s full moon, which just happened to fall on the twenty-first, the winter solstice.  That hasn’t happened since 1638!

(photo credit:

A lunar eclipse can only occur when the moon is full, because that’s the only time when the earth sits directly in line between the sun and the moon.  But the line wobbles from month to month, so we don’t see the earth’s shadow drift across every full moon.  There is at least a partial lunar eclipse twice a year, and we’ve had three full ones in the last decade.

The perihelion of the earth’s annual trip around the sun, the point of closest approach in our elliptical orbit, (see Denise’s post Happy New Year and Pleasant Perihelion) happens 14 days after the winter solstice, on January 4.  Turns out that this year it was also the date of a new moon.  While the calendar noted the more familiar week of holidays bookmarked by Christmas and New Years, it was easy to miss the two weeks of earth, sun and moon conjunctions.

Now that the calendar has mechanically ratcheted from January to February, can anyone tell me today’s phase of the moon without looking it up on your Blackberry?

It’s another new one.

Moon in total eclipse. (photo credit: )

Denise and I continue to make and keep appointments using our Google calendars and monthly planners. (Although our Google calendars have an app that adds the 4 phases of the moon on the appropriate date.  )

We’re generally punctual for our many worldly commitments tied to conventional time keeping systems.  There will be no reversion to sundials and moon phases in our house construction schedule.

Even so, as each waxing and waning moon passes, we do intend to keep our recurring date with the new moon, revising and prioritizing a new Moonster List.

We intend to mark each new moon by taking some time to smell the cosmos!

What is your favorite phase of the moon? moon celebration?  moon story?

2 replies

  1. I tend to keep track of time in relation to the full moon. Especially in the long nights of winter a full moon can make dramatic changes to what can be accomplished, like an extended dusk hike or an evening snow shoe. And thinking in moon time is a nice corollary (or antidote) to the weekly schedule imposed by a nine to five job.

    ‘When did I last visit that friend? It was the week after the full so it must have been about six weeks ago. I should give them a call again!’

    I always remember best those personal milestones that are tied to a full moon time – a friends great party or new years eve a year ago.

  2. Yes, I agree. There is something about time marked by moons that seems easier to keep track of than arbitrary dates like 032710.

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