The Moon Sends a Happy Easter and Passover, Limited Lyrids, and Peering at Polar Objects!
Happy Easter and Pesach (Passover)!
Easter Sunday and Paesach (Passover) have an astronomical connection to the moon, with the Jewish Passover pre-dating the Christian Easter. Some believe that the full moon allowed for safer travelling by religious pilgrims of the time.
In 325 AD the Council of Nicaea determined that Easter should be observed on the Sunday following the first full moon that occurs after the vernal equinox, officially known as the Paschal Full Moon. The council fixed the equinox at March 21, but the astronomical timing of the equinox actually varies a little bit, and even occurs a full day early on Leap Years. This year, the equinox took place on March 20 at 6 pm EDT, and the full moon occurred that same day, at 9:43 pm EDT!
So why is Easter being observed on April 21 in 2019, instead of Sunday, March 24 (the Sunday after March’s full moon)? It’s because, as I stated above, the Council of Nicea fixed the equinox on March 21 — and that was the day AFTER the full moon this year.
In an added twist, if the post-equinox full moon falls on a Sunday, the following Sunday becomes Easter. The earliest that Easter can ever occur is March 22, which last happened in 1818, and won’t happen again until 2285! If a full moon happens before March 21, Easter will be delayed by a full lunar month, plus up to six days — on April 25. That will happen in 2038.
Passover is celebrated from the 15th through the 22nd of the Hebrew month of Nissan in the Jewish lunar calendar. It began with sundown last Friday night, which coincided with the first full moon after the spring equinox. In years when that full moon occurs early, Jewish religious leaders delay Passover by a month to ensure that spring-like weather conditions (warmer temperatures and flowers in bloom) have arrived in Israel. Last year’s Passover began about three weeks earlier, on March 27. The earliest that Passover can occur in our Gregorian calendar is March 25, which will next happen in 2089.
In Western Christianity, Easter sometimes precedes Passover by several weeks. The Eastern Orthodox Church uses the older Julian Calendar, and schedules Easter using the precise moment of the astronomical equinox and full moon as measured in Jerusalem (where the crucifixion and resurrection occurred). This ensures that Easter always occurs after Passover, since Jesus had…