Tonight I cycled home during both a moonrise and a sunset. The sky to the west was cloudless, shading from a liquid blue to a sort of strawberry pink at the horizon, with the moon peach-coloured and sitting on it; over to the east, the sun was struggling down hunkering down through dark grey duvets and into bed. As I rounded a bend I caught a reflection of shards of the sunset, in the windows of a JCB parked ominously in an as-yet untouched field. I thought the vehicle was literally on fire, not a vehicle but a ramshackle stack of burning junk and rubbish: not entirely out of place, as Lord Hovermower loves his pointless pyres.
I realised with a shock—partly at the fact that I’d never thought to work it out before—that a full moon close to the equinox will indeed rise at the same time as the sun sets. A drawing will probably help you here. But tomorrow sees a full moon and the vernal equinox is nine days later. Those nine days out of the year mean that the sun and the full moon can both just be present in the sky at the same time.
By the time I neared home, the moon had climbed a few degrees and the sun was gone. I noted too that in an hour the equinoctal moon or sun moves about the width of your hand, held with arm outstretched and at right angles to it: it depends a bit on the relative sizes of your hand and arm, of course. The moon was still a pale, fleshy hue, waterlilied alone in the depths of the sky. I decided as I bombed along that we should fire up Stellarium again soon. The last time we did that, it blew our minds when we recognised Leo and Casseiopeia, and moved on to Draco and Monoceros.
Which is all a roundabout way of explaining why, inspired by space exploration though I might be, I’m ambivalent about the new second brightest object in the night sky. To gain some perspective—difficult in the paraxial approximation, but easier when regarding closer objects—I’ve tried to bear in mind the cumulative vandalism that the aviation, coal and car industries are inflicting on the thin skin of air between us and the stars every day. In comparison, the celestial sphere will still be looking comparatively beautiful for many, many years yet.