A Full Moon And Meteor Shower - Don't Miss Tonight's Winter Solstice Display

By Trevor Nace - FORBES - 21. December 2018

Winter landscape in the mountains at night. A full moon and a starry sky in the Carpathian Mountains Credit: GETTY

The winter solstice, falling on December 21, 2018, will mark the shortest day of the year as well as a full moon in the night sky. The upcoming full moon named the Cold Moon or the Long Night Moon will be visible during the longest night of the year.

The two events don't perfectly align. The peak full Moon will occur on December 22 at 12:49 p.m. EST while the winter solstice falls a day earlier on December 21. However, to the typical person viewing the moon, it will appear full for several days.

The winter solstice marks a transition period where days begin getting longer in the Northern Hemisphere and shorter in the Southern Hemisphere. The evening of the winter solstice will be the longest of the year for the Northern Hemisphere. This is because Earth's poles create a maximum tilt away from the Sun in the Northern Hemisphere and maximum tilt toward the Sun in the Southern Hemisphere.

The Winter Solstice Full Moon

The moon will appear to be a full moon tonight, however, the technical full moon of December isn't until Saturday, December 22. The Full Cold Moon, named after the full moon marking the beginning of the coldest part of the year, will add to the overall experience tonight.

While the full moon may make it more difficult to see the Ursid meteor shower, it will, in its own way, create a unique imprint on the winter solstice.


Moonrise in New York City tonight.TIMEANDDATE.COM

The diagram above lays out the moonrise in New York City tonight, with moonset at 5:46 am and moonrise at 3:53 pm. It also indicates the location of the moon as it rises so you can pull out your binoculars or telescope if you have one. This will be a great opportunity to get a better view of the entire moon as it's on display.

Winter solstice occurs in December for the Northern Hemisphere and June for the Southern Hemisphere. WIKIPEDIA

No matter how you've spent the winter solstice in past years, winter solstice 2018 should be spent on a dark hill looking up at the astronomical show.

The four photos left display how the Sun hits Earth on the winter solstice, the summer solstice and the two middle transition points. The tilt of the Earth causes the Northern Hemisphere of Earth to receive less sunlight during the winter solstice than the Southern Hemisphere.

The 2018 winter solstice will be accompanied by what NASA notes as the Cold Moon or the Long Night Moon. The names originate from the Native Americans, who marked December's full Moon as the beginning of the coldest part of the year. Also, the Long Night Moon is named after the longest night of the year on the winter solstice.

How often do these events coincide, where the winter solstice is adorned by a full moon? The last time it occurred was in 2010 and the next event will not be until 2094. On December 21 you will also be able to see Mercury and Jupiter in conjunction in the long night sky. On top of all that, the Ursid meteor shower will peak on the nights of December 21 and 22, adding shooting starts to the mix.

Today, December 21, 2018, is winter solstice in Northern Hemisphere, officially the shortest day of the year. As we celebrate the increasing daylight hours to come, look to the sky tonight and mark the occasion with the spectacular Ursid meteor shower and a full Moon.

A full moon over Earth captured aboard the International Space Station. NASA

Winter solstice comes and goes every year, marking the rhythmic tilt of Earth both toward and away from the Sun. However, this year it will be accompanied by an astronomical show. Below we'll cover how to watch the Ursid meteor shower, where the full Moon is best viewed and how common or uncommon it is for these events to align.

What Is The Winter Solstice?

Winter solstice is the point at which Earth's axis is tilted as far from the Sun as it will be all year. The maximum tilt away from the Sun in the Northern Hemisphere means the shortest day of the year and longest night of the year in 2018.

During the same time, the Southern Hemisphere is experiencing their summer solstice, marking the longest day of the year. In June of 2019, the roles will reverse and thus continues the ever marching seasons. As you can imagine, the higher latitudes (New England, Canada, Alaska, etc.) will experience a much more pronounced winter solstice. Some places in the very high latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere will experience little to no sunlight at all.

Don't miss the opportunity to look up into the night sky on this winter solstice and revel in the grandeur of the full moon and the Ursid meteor shower.

How To Watch The Ursid Meteor Shower

A bright green meteor streaks through the Milky Way and the starry night sky above Cathedral Rock in Sedona, Arizona. Credit: GETTY

The Ursid meteor shower has already begun, starting on December 17 and lasting until December 24. The meteor shower will peak between December 22 and 23 with up to 10 meteors per hour entering Earth's atmosphere. While the peak will occur a day after the winter solstice, you can still easily see the meteor shower tonight, but there may be fewer visible meteors.

It is called the Ursid meteor shower because it appears to come from the Ursa Minor constellation in the sky. For hour by hour instructions on how to watch the meteor shower, head over to TimeandDate.com, which provides the azimuth and altitude of the meteor shower based on your location each hour.

Thankfully, the meteor shower won't require you to go out and buy any equipment. A clear sky and a good view of the stars is enough to experience the meteor shower. To increase your chance of seeing the meteor shower, try to find a dark area outside of a city with little to no man-made lights. Light pollution from cities and neighborhoods will make it more difficult to experience the event. Be sure to dress in layers and bring a warm blanket. Lastly, just be patient.

The festival of Faugni ignis' in Italy (fires of Faunus) is a millenary popular rite when propitiatory fires were lit by peasants before the winter solstice to invoke the favors of Faunus, god of fertility. Credit: Associated Press


Trevor Nace is a PhD geologist, founder of Science Trends, Forbes contributor, and explorer. Follow his journey @trevornace. "I am a geologist passionate about sharing Earth's intricacies with you. I received my PhD from Duke University where I studied the geology and climate of the Amazon. I am the founder of Science Trends, a leading source of science news and analysis."


December's full moon will coincide with the 2018 winter solstice.NASA