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[Moon Phases]
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1159    NOVEMBER 4, 2018:   Crescent Moon—Cowboy Junkies
I have as an astronomy educator tried to make a conscious effort to promote the science behind my discipline, but equally important is the beauty of the night sky in all of its different characteristics—visual, melodic, and poetic. I believe this makes the science more approachable, especially to a liberal arts population. I want my students to be able look up into the heavens to appreciate its beauty as well as to comprehend what they see. One of the eternal themes in the arts involves the moon and its phases, a concept that I have stressed throughout my professional career. In fact in my book, I have an exercise jokingly, and not very poetically titled, “Know the Phases of the Moon or Die.” Although I incorporate many participatory ways of presenting the phases, some students still fail to the grasp the differences between a new moon (no moon) and a full moon, waxing (growing) and waning (diminishing), or crescent (horned) and gibbous (bulbous) moons. Let’s not forget quarter moons, first and last, which show a half-lit Luna in the sky. It can be confusing, especially to my international students. Enter Cowboy Junkies, a Toronto-based alternate country and folk-rock band that was formed in 1985 and is still singing today. I invite you to listen to “Crescent Moon” on YouTube, which debuted in their fifth album, Pale Sun, Crescent Moon, in 1993. It is about unrequited love. I cannot comprehend why this ballad with all of its astronomical resonance never got any more traction than it did. It is quiet, poetic, melodic, and beautifully sung by female vocalist, Margo Timmins. Perhaps it hits a little too close to the heart because most of us have experienced an unanswered love for which we have suffered deep, emotional pain. However, the astronomy is woven so effortlessly throughout the song that I had to bring it to your attention. Here are the first two verses which don’t do justice to the poetry and to the emotional feelings which it creates unless accompanied by the music and the vocals. I hope you’ll listen to “Crescent Moon” in its entirety and appreciate the song as much as I have.

Reach a hand to the crescent moon
Grab hold of the hollow
If she sits in the palm of the left
That moon will be fuller tomorrow
If she sits in the palm of the right
That moon is on the wane
And the love of the one who shares your bed
Will be doing just the same

"Won't you come with me", she said
"there's plenty of room in my iron bed
You're looking cold and tired
And more than a little human
I know I'm not part of the life you had planned,
But I think once your body feels my hand
Your mind will change
And your heart will lose its pain"

The lyrics along with a few notations can be found at A special thank you is extended to Richard Hogg for introducing me to Cowboy Junkies, prompted by a short conversation about lunar phases and how to remember them, which took place last week under the beautiful skyscape of Shooting Star Farm.

[Crescent Moon-Cowboy Junkies]
Click on the image to be taken to the YouTube video of "Crescent Moon." The lyrics with a few notes can be found below.

[Crescent Moon lyrics-Cowboy Junkies]

1160    NOVEMBER 11, 2018:   First Man: No Thrust
I had desperately wanted to see First Man ever since I first saw the trailer for the 2-hour, 20-minute feature film about Neil Armstrong, adapted from the book by the same title, the original moonwalker’s official biography. Years ago, I had listened to the audio book, and then read First Man by James R. Hansen, who was a co-producer of the film along with Steven Spielberg who served as an executive producer. I also have to preface my comments with the fact that Armstrong was one of my personal heroes, someone who tirelessly worked toward the goal of becoming better at whatever he did—a perfectionist without the ego baggage. He also had the capacity to work on a problem with full concentration on achieving a successful solution, regardless of the amount of personal danger he encountered. This was accurately portrayed in the film, but the champion of achieving the impossible was shy about public appearances, modest in every way. I know because I heard him speak in 1973. I was so close to Armstrong that I could have reached up and stolen the glass of water from his podium. At that lecture, a soft-spoken Neil emphasized that we had chosen to go to the moon, not because the challenges were hard, but as a diversion from the bad publicity the Kennedy administration was receiving surrounding the Bay of Pigs fiasco in April of 1961. Armstrong left the talk without answering any questions, and I snuck out and found him down a corridor standing alone quietly gazing at some imaginary vista. For about a minute it was just Neil and me—a minute I shall never forget—before the throngs of people found him, and once again he was inundated with adulations. He hated every moment of it! I think that Ryan Gosling captured Armstrong’s character to high degree of accuracy which in itself had its difficulties because Armstrong’s personality was in no way bigger than life. He didn’t want to be the hero, nor cared about being the first human to set foot on another world. He simply wanted to perform his part to the best of his abilities which he always did. Another problem was that Gosling had only a small facial resemblance to the real Neil Armstrong that we all knew from the Apollo missions. The film also switched back and forth between the activities of Armstrong and his wife Janet and their children. The lives of the wives were not easy by any means, but the tactic was overplayed, focusing too much emphasis on the family and not enough attention on Armstrong. The film still cruised along, with well-conceived and accurately rendered special effects, that kept the viewer engaged. However, by the time the film transitioned to Armstrong’s participation in Apollo 11, it was as if director Damien Chazelle said, “We’ve got to do a wrap on this project in the next 20 minutes.” The film’s climax showing the landing and the first step left me flat and detached from the characters. There were no mental flashbacks to the awe and excitement that I experienced when I witnessed the actual landing and Armstrong’s first steps on the lunar surface, July 20, 1969. The final disappointment was on the moon itself where the audience got the impression that the whole Apollo program was simply about walking on the moon—to beat the Soviet Union in the space race. That may have actually been the view from afar shared by the masses, but Apollo was so much more. It was about the new technologies needed to accomplish the goal of docking spacecraft, voyaging to the moon, accurately landing on its surface, and returning safely back to the Earth, knowledge that was immediately accessible to everyone, knowledge that created thousands of spinoffs which improved the lives of all humanity, but served to bring the greatest benefits to the citizens of the United States. Set design, special effects, the claustrophobia of spaceflight, and Armstrong’s unassuming personality were well-portrayed in First Man, but the storyline was truncated and tamed at its most vital point, leaving this viewer gasping for air, rather than being breathless.

[First Man]
First Man, the book jacket from Simon & Schuster and the movie poster from Universal. I would read the book first.

1161    NOVEMBER 18, 2018:   

1162    NOVEMBER 25, 2018:   

[November Star Map]

[November Moon Phase Calendar]