The reason for this seasonal circumstance is that the moon appears to move along the ecliptic, and at this time of year, when rising, the ecliptic makes its smallest angle with respect to the horizon for those living in the Northern Hemisphere.
In contrast, for those living in the Southern Hemisphere, the ecliptic at this time of year appears to stand almost perpendicular (at nearly a right angle) to the eastern horizon. As such, the difference for the time of moonrise exceeds the average of 50 minutes per night. At Sydney, Australia (latitude -33.9), for instance, the night-to-night difference amounts to 67 minutes.
Interestingly, for those who live near 70 degrees north latitude, the moon does indeed appear to rise at about the same time each night around the period of the Harvest Moon. And for those who live even farther to the north, a paradox occurs: The moon appears to rise earlier each night! At Barrow, Alaska (latitude +71.3 degrees), for instance, the times of moonrise on Sept. 15, 16 and 17 will be, respectively, 9:05 p.m., 9:02 p.m. and 8:59 p.m. Alaska Daylight Time. So from Barrow, Alaska, the moon will seem to rise an average of 3 minutes earlier each night!
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The Harvest Moon will also undergo an eclipse of sorts, although this event will not afford viewers much of a spectacle. It's a "penumbral" eclipse, which occurs when the moon passes through the outer fringe of the Earth's shadow. Unlike when the moon interacts with the dark umbral shadow of Earth, resulting in a noticeable "bite" out of the lunar disk, a penumbral eclipse at best causes a tarnishing or "smudginess" on the moon at maximum effect.
Unfortunately, North America is not in the viewing zone. Eastern Africa, western and central Asia, and western and central Australia are in the best positions to see this eclipse. At maximum (2:54 p.m. EDT, or 1854 GMT), 93 percent of the moon's diameter will be immersed in the Earth's penumbral shadow; the upper part of the moon will appear noticeably shaded.
So for all of you (including me) who live in North America, don't be dejected that you're missing out on this shady little drama.
It's really an underwhelming event.
Joe Rao serves as an instructor and guest lecturer at New York's Hayden Planetarium. He writes about astronomy for Natural History magazine, the Farmer's Almanac and other publications, and he is also an on-camera meteorologist for News 12 Westchester, New York.
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