Wednesday will be a “magical” night in the world of stargazing, as four celestial events take place in the sky.
The day will end with the earliest sunset of the year, an opposition from Mars, and a rare event in which December’s full moon, known as the “cold moon,” will temporarily eclipse Mars.
According to NASA, the sun will go down before 4:45 pm EST on Wednesday, and sunset will end at 5:49 pm EST. Although it will bring early darkness, it will pave the way for a great night of stargazing. Along with the full moon, viewers will be able to observe several planets close to its glow: Jupiter, Saturn and Mars, the last of which will be directly opposite the sun, an event known as a Mars opposition.
Wednesday’s full moon is known as a cold moon because of the “long, cold nights” that winter brings, according to NASA, citing the Maine Farmers’ Almanac. Also known as the Almanac Frost Moon and Winter Moon, as well as the Yule Moon and Oak Moon in Europe.
But the main event is not just the moon. As Mars makes its closest and brightest appearance of the year, NASA said the moon will gradually approach the red planet. In some regions around the world, the moon will appear to eclipse Mars, an event known as a lunar eclipse.
“December 7th brings one of those magical moments when the sky changes dramatically before your eyes,” says NASA in a skywatching highlights video.
Parts of North America, Europe and North Africa will be able to see the occultation, NASA said, while those on the Southeast and East Coasts of the US will see the moon “graze past Mars.”
A viewing of the hideout should last about an hour for most people. Those in Minneapolis will see Mars vanish around 9:03 pm CST and reappear around 10:11 pm, NASA said, while those in Los Angeles will be able to observe the phenomenon from around 6:31 pm PST to 7:31 pm PST. the moon will peak at 11:08 pm EST.
NASA said this event will provide “a rare opportunity to see the bright planet hidden by the moon.”
“The Moon passes in front of the planets in the night sky several times a year. In fact, it generally obscures Mars itself at least a couple of times a year,” NASA said. “But each occultation is only visible from a small part of the Earth’s surface, so it’s not very common to see it frequently in a particular place on Earth.”
For those outside of regions where it is possible to see the occultation, or without clear skies during the celestial event, a live stream is available to watch it unfold in real time. Here’s how you can watch (all times listed below are EST):
- The Virtual Telescope Project 2.0 will have an online viewing beginning at 11 p.m
- The University of Texas at Austin’s McDonald Observatory in Flagstaff along with Arizona’s Lowell Observatory will broadcast live beginning at 9 p.m.
- Southern California’s Griffith Observatory will broadcast live starting at 9 p.m
- Carnegie Astronomy’s live broadcast begins at 9:15 p.m