March is a month of transition. The seasons are changing from winter to spring in the Northern Hemisphere. South of the equator it’s moving from summer to fall. All around the world, change is prevalent. This change is no better illustrated than in the names the Native American’s had for the March moon.
Days grow longer as we progress into spring. The sun makes its way a little higher into the sky every day. For the tribes of the Northern and Great Plains, this could cause a problem. The bright sun would reflect off the white snow and could sunburn their eyes. This can cause a painful condition known as snow blindness. This inspired the Souix to name the March moon, the “sore eye moon”.
In the Great Lakes region, the warming days and chilly nights caused the snow to constantly start to melt and refreeze. An icy crust would form on top of the snow. Because of this, the Chippewa and Ojibwe tribes called the March moon the “snow crust moon.”
As the ground starts to thaw in many places, earthworms become active. In the American Northeast, the Alqonquins used the name “worm moon.” And worms make great fish bait, so it was also known as the “catching fish moon.”
The changes in the trees were also noted by many of the Native Americans. The Shawnee called the March moon the “sap moon” because the sap in the maple trees would start to run. In the American Southwest the signs of spring are a little further along. Leaves are starting to return to the tree branches. The Pueblo Indians of this region used the name “moon when the leaves break forth.”
Many northern Native American tribes view the cawing of crows as a sign that spring was coming.
Birds are also well represented in Native American moon names for March. Many northern tribes saw the cawing of crows as a signal that winter was over, so we have “crow moon”. Other bird related moon names are “eagle moon” (Cree), “moon of the crane” (Potawatomi) and “noisy goose moon” (Haida).
In the Southern Hemisphere, the seasonal transition is opposite. The hot days of summer are turning to the cooler temperatures of fall. There the moon names for March are “harvest moon” and “corn moon.”
This sample of Native American moon names gives us a small taste of the richness of their cultures. Their keen observation of the weather, plants and animals and tying them to cycles of the Earth and Moon demonstrates their deep connection with the natural world.
The few weeks surrounding the March Equinox are a great time to gaze into the night sky and search for incoming fireballs.
“The Earth getting bombarded by fireballs? Sounds disastrous. Is this the evil doing of some cosmic wizard or stellar sorcerer? “
No need to worry. As far as we know, no one has ever been killed by a fireball from space.
So what is a fireball?
A fireball is just a particularly bright meteor. It has an apparent magnitude of at least -4, so it is about as bright, or brighter than the planet Venus. The brighter the fireball, the more rare they are.
Fireballs that are especially bright and explode in the atmosphere are commonly known as bolides. A bolide that detonates into a burst of visible fragments is a visual treat that you won’t soon forget.
More than a thousand fireballs enter our atmosphere every day. Sounds like there’s a great chance to see one.
Unfortunately the vast majority occurs over the oceans or uninhabited areas, during daylight hours, behind clouds or behind our backs (sneaky little buggers!)
The good news? During the spring the nightly fireball rate climbs by up to 30%, giving you a better chance to observe the fireworks!
On average, an experienced observer might see one fireball with the apparent magnitude of about -4 for every 20 hours of observing.
So why are fireballs more common around the March Equinox than at other times? No one is exactly sure. But one theory, suggested by NASA, is that more debris capable of creating a fireball litters this part of the Earth’s orbit.
Another possibility is that it may have to do with the antapex radiant. The antapex radiant is the point that our solar system is moving away from as we orbit the sun. In his book Meteors and How to Observe Them, Robert Lunsford points out “Studies have shown that during the period from mid-February through mid-April, when the antapex radiant lies highest in the sky, fireball rates peak as seen from the northern hemisphere.”
No matter what the reason for the fireball increase is, now is a good time to try to spot one.
Fall is officially here and with that a good time to see the zodiacal light, and with the Moon absence from the morning sky for the next couple weeks it makes a particularly good time to get a glimpse.
What is zodiacal light and what causes it? It is a pyramid-shaped glow that appears in the eastern sky before dawn or western sky just after sunset. This phenomenon is caused by sunlight reflecting off the dust particles that move in the same plane as the Earth and other planets as they orbit the Sun. The zodiacal light appears brighter the closer you get to the equator.
At this time of year you can see the zodiacal light an hour or two before dawn in the eastern sky. Observers in the Southern Hemisphere can see it after sunset. Dark skies will be needed to see it, so try to get far away from the city lights.
October 9th will mark the peak of this years Draconid Meteor Shower, named for the constellation Draco, where the meteors appear to originate from. This shower is also known as the Giacobinids, for comet 21 P/ Giacobini-Zinner, the comet that left the dust debris responsible for this meteor shower. In the past the Draconids have been responsible for some of the most spectacular showers, but in general they tend to be one of the less impressive ones. This year a new Moon will be on October 13th, making viewing more favorable.