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Basking in the Glow

Bright lights warm dark nights

We’re still a couple weeks from winter solstice, the day with the least sunlight for us in the Northern Hemisphere. But we’re already enjoying later sunsets one day to the next. Wednesday the 7th, old Sol sunk beneath Annapolis’s southwest horizon at 37 seconds past 4:43, the earliest sunset of the year. By the solstice December 21, the sun sets more than two and a-half minutes later at 4:47:03.
    December’s full moon Saturday is called the Yule Moon, the Cold Moon and the Long Nights Moon. These shortest days of the year provide the long nights, while winter ecliptic provides the full moon a dominating perch directly overhead. The ecliptic is the path of the sun, moon and planets through the heavens. While it is at its nighttime peak this time of year, it is at its lowest in the day. Conversely, six months from now as we near summer solstice, the ecliptic will be at its highest near high noon, and the sun will shine overhead in the position of this week’s evening moon.
    For those on the West Coast as well as parts of Asia and the South Pacific, Saturday’s full moon is eclipsed by earth’s shadow before dawn Saturday. Hereabouts, look for a subtle darkening in hue at best.
    Sunset Wednesday through dawn Thursday marks the peak of the annual Geminid meteor shower, one of the year’s best. Under ideal conditions, the Geminids can deliver a meteor each minute, but the nearby waning gibbous moon will trim the visible number. The intensity of the Geminids tends to pick up closer to dawn, and errant meteors should streak through the skies for several days before and after the peak.
    Meteor showers occur when earth passes through the debris trail left behind by a comet — except the Geminids, which are the offspring of 3200 Phaethon, an asteroid.