The dragon's waning gibbous moon: this week on The Storyteller's Night Sky

Sep 24, 2018

Draco can be seen overhead every night of the year, and after Equinox, his tail sweeps northward.

After the Full Harvest Moon Monday night, the Moon spends the rest of the week waning through its gibbous phase. “Gibbous” is the term we use to describe the phenomena of light on the Moon’s surface, when it makes the Moon appear convex on both edges, as opposed to one edge being concave, like at crescent phase. So what’s so unique about this now?

During Monday’s Full Phase, the Moon opposed the Sun. Every Full Moon occurs when the Moon is opposite the Sun, but now it’s after Autumn Equinox, so this means that the Sun is below the celestial equator, and for the first time since last winter, the Moon is full above the celestial equator, so it’s like the Moon is trying to be the dominant light, and to give mastery to the night.

But even though it’s dominant above the celestial equator, the Moon doesn’t radiate light, it only reflects, and what’s more, the reflection gets less and less as the Moon moves on through the night.

Still, there’s drama in the seasonal narrative when we add the stars, because just prior to Autumn Equinox each year, the tail of the constellation Hydra, the water-serpent, slips below the visible horizon in the west; at the same time, the tail of the constellation Draco, the dragon, sweeps up northward, overhead. The thing about Draco is that it’s always overhead, every night, wrapped around the Little Dipper as it coils through the stars, but each season its tail points in a different direction. It’s only now, after Equinox, that it points due north, and as the Full Moon wanes, it’s as though now Draco can sound the call: serpents and dragons can take the stage!

This is the reason why, in the Christian calendar, this is the right the time for the Feast of the Archangel Michael. Michael is known as the dragon-slayer, and he’s the one who wields power over what lies hidden and begins stirring in the heart of the night. His feast is Saturday, September 29.