Skywatchers in the Eastern time zone are in for a stellar double-feature this week, as a numerically significant full moon occurs early Thursday ahead of a spectacular Geminid meteor shower on Friday.
The action will kick off shortly after Wednesday night turns to Thursday morning in cities such as Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa. The moon will become full at exactly 12:12 a.m. ET on Dec. 12 (12/12), according to widely-available weather data in the U.S. and Canada.
It will also shine in the nighttime sky for longer than any other moon, as it falls just over a week before the winter solstice, which is the darkest day of the year.
The first full moon in December is often referred to as the “cold moon,” according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac. Astronomers have names for the full moon in each month, with the “wolf moon” following this one in January.
The moon will become full at 9:12 PT in Western cities like Vancouver.
However, if you’re not in the East or you don’t want to venture out into the cold twice, you might want to wait until the real fireworks start on Friday.
“Arguably the best meteor shower of the entire year peaks on Friday night into the early hours of Saturday morning,” astronomy blogger Dave Samuhel wrote for AccuWeather. “The Geminids shower is just as or slightly more active than the Perseids meteor shower of August.”
The Geminid meteor shower should appear as a series of shooting stars in the night sky, provided they’re not drowned out by light from the nearly full moon. Those shooting stars are actually little bits of space dust burning up in the atmosphere as they fall off 3200 Phaeton, an asteroid that whips past Earth each year on its way around the sun.
The shooting stars should be visible within the constellation of Gemini, according to the International Meteor Organization.
The meteor shower can produce from 100-150 meteors per hour, according to the American Meteor Society. However, the moon could dim that result.
NASA says the best way to watch the Geminids is to go somewhere free from light pollution, wait until nearly midnight, then park yourself under some warm layers and tilt your head skyward.
“The meteors may be seen in all parts of the sky, but they appear to radiate from the constellation Gemini,” NASA writes on its Night Sky blog.
The Geminids happen annually in December, so don’t feel bad if it’s cloudy or you’re not up for shivering through the wee small hours of Friday and Saturday.
There’s always next year — and there are sure to be plenty of great photos on social media after the shower ends.
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