A Blue Moon—May's Flower Moon—Is Coming Next Month

Matt Cardy/Getty Images
Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Exactly how often is "once in a blue moon"? According to NASA, the celestial occurrence isn't especially rare: A blue moon happens about once every 2.5 years. The next blue moon will appear the night of May 18, 2019, and because the event marks the first full moon of May, it will also be a flower moon.

What Is a Blue Moon?

Instead of describing color, like a blood moon, the term blue moon is reserved for an additional full moon that appears within a certain window of time. There are two types of blue moons: monthly blue moons and seasonal blue moons. A monthly blue moon, the more popular of the two definitions, is the second full moon that occurs in a single calendar month. This usage is fairly recent, and likely originated from an error printed in a 1946 issue of Sky and Telescope magazine.

A seasonal blue moon is the older meaning, and it describes the third moon in a season that has four full moons. Each season—winter, spring, summer, and fall—typically sees three full moons, and in the rare event there are four, the third is singled out as the anomaly. This is sometimes the preferred definition of astronomy-minded people because it's based on natural equinoxes and solstices rather than the Gregorian calendar.

When to See the Blue Flower Moon

The full moon set to light up the night sky in May will be a seasonal blue moon. The time of year it occurs—May—makes it a flower moon. The first full moon of each month has a special name: A worm moon is a full moon in April, and a wolf moon is a full moon in January.

To catch 2019's blue flower moon, look up the night of May 18. The Moon will be at its fullest when it's precisely at 180° ecliptic longitude opposite the Sun—which occurs at 5:11 p.m. ET on May 18.

A Lunar Crash May Have Left Behind a Library of Human Civilization on the Moon

Matt Cardy, Getty Images
Matt Cardy, Getty Images

SpaceIL, the Israeli-based private space travel nonprofit backed by billionaire Morris Kahn, came up short in their attempt to land the first commercial payload ever delivered on the Moon. Their Beresheet lander crashed last Thursday, April 11, after a technical glitch prompted its engine to power off and then back on, causing it to come in too fast and strike the lunar surface.

While not ultimately successful, the voyage may have still managed to mark a milestone in the history of lunar exploration. The Arch Mission Foundation, which worked with SpaceIL to put a massive amount of information—including the entirety of Wikipedia—on board, announced this week that the digital library may have survived the impact. That would make it the first substantial repository of knowledge to occupy the Moon.

The data, which was dubbed the Lunar Library, holds an impressive wealth of material—the equivalent of roughly 30 million pages in all. In addition to Wikipedia, there are books selected by Project Gutenberg, 60,000 images, language keys, and a curated selection of music. All of this humanity was packed into 25 nickel discs that are each 40 microns thick. The entire library is roughly the size and shape of a DVD.

Arch Mission Foundation believes that the discs could have survived the impact based on what's known about its trajectory and the crash and is working to confirm its existence. Even if it didn't, there's still something to be said for the idea that "archaeological ruins" of human knowledge now exist there.

The Lunar Library wouldn't be the only human relic left behind. Alan Shepard, the fifth man ever to walk on the Moon in 1971, left golf balls after playing a lunar round. In 1969, the crew of Apollo 11 left a 1.5-inch silicon disk containing goodwill messages from prominent figures in 75 countries written microscopically.

SpaceIL intends to pursue a second lunar lander, with a launch date to be announced. While other countries have landed a vehicle on the Moon—the United States, China, and Russia—this would have marked the first time for a private entity.

[h/t Fast Company]

NASA Reveals How Living in Space for a Year Affected Scott Kelly’s Poop

NASA, Getty Images
NASA, Getty Images

When you agree to be part of a yearlong space study, you forfeit some right to privacy. In astronaut Scott Kelly’s case, the changes his body endured while spending a year at the International Space Station (ISS) were carefully analyzed by NASA, then published in a scientific journal for all to see. Kelly submitted blood samples, saliva samples, and cheek swabs. Even his poop was subjected to scrutiny.

As PBS reports, Scott Kelly’s fecal samples revealed that his gut microbiome underwent significant but reversible changes during his time in orbit. In what was surely good news for both Kelly and NASA, his gut bacteria didn’t contain anything “alarming or scary,” according to geneticist Martha Hotz Vitaterna, and it returned to normal within six months of landing on Earth.

Even after being subjected to the challenging conditions of space, “Scott’s microbiome still looked like Scott’s microbiome, just with a space twist on it,” said Vitaterna, who was one of the study’s authors.

The fecal probe was one small part of a sweeping NASA study that was just published in the journal Science, more than three years after Kelly’s return. Dubbed the Twins Study, it hinged on the results of Kelly’s tests being compared with those of his identical twin, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, who remained on Earth as the control subject.

NASA’s goal was to gain insight into the hazards that astronauts could face on proposed long-term missions to the Moon and Mars. The agency has gone to great lengths to get this information, including offering to pay people $18,500 to stay in bed for two months in order to replicate the conditions of anti-gravity.

It also explains why NASA was willing to launch unmanned rockets into space to collect samples of Kelly’s poop. On four different occasions at the ISS, Kelly used cotton swabs to pick up poo particles. When the rockets arrived to drop off lab supplies, they returned to Earth with little tubes containing the swabs, which had to be frozen until all of the samples were collected. The process was tedious, and on one occasion, one of the SpaceX rockets exploded shortly after it launched in 2015.

The study also found that his telomeres, the caps at the ends of chromosomes, had lengthened in space, likely due to regular exercise and a proper diet, according to NASA. But when Kelly returned to Earth, they began to shorten and return to their pre-spaceflight length. Shorter telomeres have a correlation with aging and age-related diseases. “Although average telomere length, global gene expression, and microbiome changes returned to near preflight levels within six months after return to Earth, increased numbers of short telomeres were observed and expression of some genes was still disrupted,” researchers wrote.

Researchers say more studies will be needed before they send the first human to Mars. Check out NASA's video below to learn more about what they discovered.

[h/t PBS]

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