A Full Moon Will Shine On Christmas Night: The First In Decades

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For the first time in 38 years there will be a full moon shining down on us this Christmas. The previous full moon on Christmas fell on 1977, the year the first Star Wars was released and Jimmy Carter was in the White House. Take the opportunity before opening presents to step outside and appreciate our unique place in the solar system.

You can witness the moon at its peak at 6:11 a.m. EST on Christmas day if you are too excited to sleep. If you miss this one, you’ll have to wait another 19 years until 2034 to witness the next full moon on Christmas. NASA has calculated that a more uncommon occurrence, a Christmas lunar eclipse will next occur on December 25, 2531. However, if you’re not keen on waiting that long, you can view a solar eclipse on Christmas day 2307 instead.

The ‘Full Cold Moon’ presents a perfect opportunity to learn interesting facts about our moon, it’s rotation around Earth, and how it was formed.

The Orbit of our Moon

The Moon and Earth are in a cosmic dance as they orbit around their common centre of mass (barycentre). In this case the barycentre lies about three quarters the distance from the Earth’s centre to the surface.Diagram of the Earth and Moon orbit (Credit: NASA)

The Moon takes 27.322 days to orbit around the Earth and at a tilt of 5.14 degrees compared to the plane of Earth’s orbit. This rotation of the moon around Earth results in our daily tides as the Moon’s gravitational force acts upon the Earth’s oceans. The Sun and other planets have much less influence on the gravitational forcing upon our oceans and thus tides have a cyclical pattern that matches the Moon’s orbit.

There are a variety of theories that exist to explain the origin of our Moon. One theory is that early on in the formation of Earth a large body collided with Earth, ejecting pieces of Earth into orbit around our planet. Eventually, those pieces coalesced to form the Moon, as we know it. Another theory suggests that the Moon was captured in Earth’s orbit and was formed elsewhere in the solar system. This theory explains several differences seen in the geologic composition of the Earth and Moon. However, at present the impact theory remains the most probable and fits the best with scientist’s data of the Moon.

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