With Christmas only a few days away now, it is time earthlings begin bracing themselves for some nightly splendor.
Yes, this Christmas is going to be a special one for more reasons than one. Not only are we going to witness a Christmas full moon for the first time in almost 40 years, but NASA has also announced that a massive asteroid — a certain Asteroid 2003 SD220 — is going to waltz past earth on Christmas Eve.
The significance of these cosmic events is emphasized all the more when you realize that we will have to wait another 19 years — until 2034 to be precise — for a Christmas full moon, while a similar asteroid will not be spotted within earth’s close proximity for at least another three years, according to NASA.
Speaking about the rarity of the occasion, John Keller from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre said that the cosmic spectacle on Christmas is an “added gift for the holidays.”
“As we look at the moon on such an occasion, it’s worth remembering that the moon is more than just a celestial neighbor. The geologic history of the moon and Earth are intimately tied together such that the Earth would be a dramatically different planet without the moon.”
Since December’s full moon is the last of the year and marks the onset of winter, it is also called the Full Cold Moon. Sky gazers hoping to catch a glimpse of the Christmas full moon will have to wake up early to enjoy the spectacle at 6:11 am EST. Unfortunately, however, most people hoping to witness the rare event with the naked eye might be in for some disappointment as the National Weather Service predicts a front moving through Christmas with clouds and rain before and after it.
That shouldn’t stop people from getting out of their homes and giving it a shot, at least, says David A. Weintraub, an associate professor of physics and astronomy at Vanderbilt University. He said that although the Christmas full moon is hardly steeped in historical or religious significance, the mere fact that it happens so rarely makes it special. He urged people to cast an eye on the sky this Christmas Day.
“In modern times, people don’t look up too much. Most of us are inside watching television; we’re not looking up outside at night. It’s one of the few times of the month that people even notice there is something in the sky.”
“Get out there and enjoy it. And if there is snow on the ground, and it’s Christmas, and you’re in love, and you’re holding hands walking down a sidewalk, it doesn’t get much better.”
Meanwhile, the Christmas full moon is only one of the two special cosmic treats on offer this holiday season. According to Science Alert, Asteroid 2003 SD220 — roughly 1.3 miles in length — will zoom past Earth about 11 million km (6,787,600 miles) away, which is more than 28 times the distance between Earth and the Moon, at the breakneck speed of 27 km/s on Christmas Eve. But, contrary to some speculation about the asteroid causing earthquakes, NASA announced that earthlings won’t have to worry about an asteroid being dangerous for at least another 200 Christmases.
“Those assertions are misleading and incorrect. Even if 2003 SD220 were passing closer, it’s doubtful earthquakes would result,” said Eddie Irizarry, an expert sky-gazer. “In fact, there’s no scientific evidence that an asteroid’s flyby can cause any seismic activity, unless it collides with Earth, but — in this case — that clearly will not be the case.”
The asteroid, however, will only be accessible to people possessing powerful telescopes because of its relative distance and speed. So, if you are really keen on watching the asteroid whizz past earth, you will be well-advised to tune into Arecibo Observatory‘s observation of the event.
Enjoy the cosmic extravaganza this holiday season because a Christmas full moon coupled with a Christmas Eve asteroid is not a gift you can hope to get every year!
[Image via Pixabay]