Wednesday will be a “magical” night in the world of stargazing as four celestial events take place among the skies.
The day will end with the earliest sunset of the year, the opposition of Mars and a rare event in which the December full moon, known as the “cold moon,” will temporarily eclipse Mars.
According to NASA, the sun will go down just before 4:45 p.m. EST on Wednesday, with twilight ending at 5:49 p.m. EST. While it will bring early darkness, it will pave the way for a magnificent night of stargazing. Along with the full moon, viewers will be able to observe multiple planets near its glow: Jupiter, Saturn and Mars, the last of which will be directly opposite the sun, an event known as Mars opposition.
Wednesday’s full moon is known as the cold moon because of the “long, cold nights” that winter brings, according to NASA, citing the Maine Farmers’ Almanac. It’s also known as the Frost Moon and Winter Moon in the almanac, as well as the Yule Moon and Oak Moon in Europe.
But the main event isn’t just the moon itself. As Mars makes its closest and brightest appearance of the year, NASA said that the moon will gradually shift closer to the red planet. In some global regions, the moon will appear to eclipse Mars from view, an event known as a lunar occultation.
“Dec. 7 brings one of those magical moments when the sky changes dramatically before your very eyes,” NASA says in a skywatching highlights video.
Parts of North America, Europe and Northern Africa will be able to see the occultation, NASA said, while those in the southeast and east coast of the U.S. will see the moon “just graze past Mars.”
A view of the occultation should last about an hour for most people. Those in Minneapolis will see Mars disappear around 9:03 p.m. CST and reappear around 10:11 p.m., NASA said, while those in Los Angeles will be able to observe the phenomenon from around 6:31 p.m. PST to 7:31 p.m. The full moon will be at its peak at 11:08 p.m. EST.
NASA said that this event will mark a “relatively rare opportunity to watch a bright planet being occulted by the moon.”
“The moon passes in front of planets in the night sky several times per year. In fact, it generally occults Mars itself at least a couple of times per year,” NASA said. “But each occultation is visible from only a small portion of Earth’s surface, so it’s not super common for any particular spot on Earth to see them frequently.”
For those who are outside the regions where viewing the occultation is possible, or who may not have clear skies during the celestial events, there are live streams 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 observation beginning at 11 p.m.
- The University of Texas at Austin’s McDonald Observatory along with Flagstaff, Arizona’s Lowell Observatory will host a live stream beginning at 9 p.m.
- Southern California’s Griffith Observatory will host a live stream beginning at 9 p.m.
- Carnegie Astronomy’s live stream will begin at 9:15 p.m.