On and Off Earth

September normally begins with Labor Day celebrations, pool closings and school reopenings; amusement parks and beaches winding down the summer season; Friday night football kicking off the fall season; and cooler, northern air replacing the humid swelter of summer. 

But, it’s still 2020 and a quick reality check reminds us we are in the midst of turmoil and change that has been rapid, deadly, unpredictable and monumental.

Not much to celebrate this Labor Day, with tens of millions of Americans without jobs or seriously underemployed and many businesses struggling to survive. Schools are reopening but with models that are both unique and tenuous, and with no high school football. Summer vacations balanced family fun with viral fear. We are far from normal times.

The overactive 2020 hurricane season roars on, setting new records as more potential storms queue up off Africa. The Atlantic season peaks Sept. 10 and with record ocean temperatures, expect storms to just keep coming this fall.

A dry July saw temperature records smashed, August then saw rainfall totals soar. The August cool, dry spell lasted one day. September, of late, has been getting hotter. I’ll make my standard prediction: there will be weather.

It’s fairly easy to explain Earth’s new extremes. The current makeup of gases in Earth’s atmosphere is not allowing extra heat to escape to space. Add more heat to a pot on a stove, a chemistry experiment or a planetary system and things get wild. There is no normal on a planet, just change, and we are witnessing the new, ongoing reality of a warming world.

September usually hosts the Harvest moon but that’s the Full Moon closest to the fall equinox. This year’s Harvest Moon is October 1st. The September Full Moon was the Corn Moon, early on the 2nd. 

Astronomical fall begins as the sun, heading southward, shines directly down on the equator at 9:31 a.m. on the 22nd. Earth’s orbit acts like a pendulum, gaining or losing time fastest near the equinoxes. We lose 68 minutes of daylight during September as we tilt away from the sun. By month’s end the sun rises after 7 a.m. and sets before 7 p.m. 

This Saturday, easily visible by 11 p.m., reddish Mars has a very close encounter with a still bright, waning gibbous moon, while Saturn and Jupiter arc off to the west. Mars rises earlier throughout September and grows dramatically brighter but no matter what you may read online, it will not be bigger and brighter than the Full Moon. That can’t happen. Not this year, not ever!

What will happen is Labor Day and while millions are out of work, millions more have continued to work hard every day to keep us safe, well informed and fed. Many of those essential workers have not survived their encounters with COVID-19. To honor their sacrifices, let’s not only keep them in our thoughts but each do our part, and it’s fairly simple really, to keep ourselves and all we encounter safe in these difficult times. 

Coming in October: Once in a Blue Moon!

Randy Holladay is a retired Louisa County High School earth science teacher.

Recommended for you