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The December full moon, also known as the “cold moon,” will shine in the night sky this Wednesday, peaking at 11:08 p.m. ET.
Jupiter, Saturn and Mars will also be visible in the night sky on Wednesday, with an extraordinarily rare phenomenon known as the Mars lunar occultation expected to occur around the moon’s peak fullness, according to EarthSky.
At this point, the red planet will disappear behind the moon for a short time. This highly unusual event will be visible in parts of the Americas, Europe and North Africa.
December 7 also marks the 50th anniversary of the launch of NASA’s Apollo 17 mission – the last time humans set foot on the moon. This year’s cold moon therefore offers viewers the chance to both enjoy a lunar spectacle and reflect on the monumental space exploration humanity has accomplished.
“When you look at the moon, you have to understand that it’s not only beautiful…it’s a very scientifically important object,” said Dr. Noah Petro, head of the Geology, Geophysics and Geochemistry Laboratory. planetary planets from NASA.
“No other planet in our solar system has a moon quite like ours. It is unique in so many ways, and we as a society, all of humanity, are very lucky to have it literally in our midst. our backyard.
According to the Western Washington Planetarium website, the Mohawks considered the full moon in December to be a “tsothohrha,” or cold period – in reference to the freezing weather it usually accompanied. Like many other Native American tribes, the Mohawk followed the months by giving a name every full moon.
This full moon has also been known as the “moon before Yule” in Europe, to mark the Yuletide festival, and the “long night moon” by the Mohicans, due to its proximity to the winter solstice at night. the longest of the year. , which falls on December 21 this year, according to The Old Farmer’s Almanac.
The full moon will cross the sky from sunset. And with the earlier sunset in the northern hemisphere, there is a longer window for those looking to catch a glimpse of the lunar event. Anywhere with a clear view of the sky will suffice, Petro said, although for best viewing he recommends finding an area free of tall buildings and trees.
“The day before and the day after, the moon will still appear full to the naked eye,” Petro said. “So if it’s cloudy on the seventh, you can try the eighth again.”
The forecast for Wednesday evening will be partly cloudy skies in New York, mostly clear skies in Los Angeles and mostly cloudy skies in Chicago, according to CNN meteorologist Allison Chinchar.
Those in the southern hemisphere will have the same view of the full moon at night, although the orientation is reversed, as always.
The Apollo 17 spaceflight launched December 7, 1972. It was the last mission of NASA’s Apollo program and brought the number of humans who have walked on the moon to a grand total of 12. The three crew members , Eugene Cernan, Ronald Evans and Harrison “Jack” Schmitt, returned to Earth on December 19 after a 12-day mission.
Today, NASA successfully launched its Artemis program, which aims to establish the first lunar outpost and further explore the moon. The Artemis I mission launched on November 16, sending the uncrewed Orion spacecraft on a 25.5-day trip to circle the moon, with a scheduled return date of December 11, four days after the full moon. .
The space agency hopes that new lunar discoveries will in turn allow the first human to set foot on Mars.
“(The moon) is a very important extension of our own planet that we were fortunate enough to have visited with humans…and which we are preparing to return with robotic and crewed explorers,” Petro said.
“I hope people take a moment to stop and look up and think, ‘wow, how lucky we are as a planet to have this moon with us.'”
The cold moon marks the last full moon event of this year, but the December sky will also feature two more meteor showers. Skywatchers won’t want to miss the dynamic Geminids, which peak on December 14 — and the Ursids follow quickly and are expected to peak on December 22, according to EarthSky’s 2022 meteor shower guide.