By Mayukh Saha,
You know what’s December 21, don’t you? It’s the shortest day in the year or the winter solstice. It comes and goes every year and we don’t seem to pay much attention to it. This year, however, things are going to be different. It will be so special that those who witness it, will remember it for years to come. Wondering why? Here’s all about why it’ll be so.
This year, winter solstice coincides with a full moon and on top of that there are predictions of a meteor shower that night. This forthcoming new moon is being called the Cold Moon or the Long Night Moon and it’ll brighten the sky on the year’s longest night.
However, the two events would not be perfectly simultaneous. The peak of the full moon is at 12:49 pm on 22nd December while the solstice is a day earlier on December 21st. Yet, with our blank eyes, we would see a full moon on the solstice.
In geographical terms, this solstice marks the transition into longer days in the Northern Hemisphere and shorter days in the Southern. Consequently, in the northern hemisphere, this is the longest evening in a year. All this, as we know, happens due to the tilt of the earth’s axis. During this time, the North Pole is at its farthest position from the sun while the South Pole is at the closest.
Observing these images – showing the differential illumination of the earth’s surface – would give you a better idea of the phenomenon I’m talking about.
As already mentioned, the moon on this night would be called the Cold Moon. The name has been given after a Native American community, who considered the full moon in December as the beginning of the coldest days of the year. The other name, Long Night Moon, is indeed too literal and its purpose is to relate the moon to the year’s longest night.
Now, you may ask what is so special about this coincidence anyway. Well, let me tell you. Although, in terms of geological time, the last time this occurred was pretty recent in 2010, such an event is not very common. As scientists have pointed out, after this upcoming one, a similar event would not be repeated until 2094.
So much for the full moon. You are probably thinking that is all and are getting ready to press the share (or back) button. But wait, hold on a little while longer because there’s more to it. Remember I told you it’ll be a night worth remembering? I was not kidding.
Apart from all these full moon drama, the stage of the long night sky is all set for the joint appearance of Jupiter and Mercury. You’d be able to see it with your blank eyes.
Now, finally, put your hands together for the showstopper! On this very night between 21 and 22 December, the longest night of the year, the Ursid meteor shower will be at its peak. What this means is that the sky would be adorned with shooting stars. Just so that you know, some people say that wishes made to a shooting star are fulfilled.
So, in all, nature is organizing a splendid night show for us. Whoever or wherever you are, you would want to make sure that you don’t miss it. Whatever you do, find some time out that night and go out to some empty place and watch the sky. The night will be long and beautiful, and you’d have a lot of time to cherish it.