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CELESTIAL EVENTS LINE UP TONIGHT.

Byline: Robert Monroe Staff Writer

Look to the skies tonight to witness a trio of celestial events that haven't taken place so close to each other in more than 133 years.

Not only will the moon be full, but it will be at its closest point to Earth just hours after the maximum point of winter solstice, the shortest day of the year.

It may not be amore, but the moon will hit your eye like a big pizza pie - shining 25 percent brighter than an average full moon and appearing some 14 percent larger than it did Dec. 8., at its farthest point from the Earth.

``Whenever we have an event like this that reminds us of the rest of the universe, I think that's very healthy.'' said Ed Krupp, director of the Griffith Observatory. ``We always welcome the full moon.''

The first of the three events takes place at 11:44 p.m., when the Earth is at maximum solstice, when the tilt of the Earth shifts the Northern Hemisphere to its farthest point from the sun.

Around 3 a.m., the moon reaches perigee, coming within 221,662 miles of Earth. At 9:31 a.m., the moon is at its fullest.

This troika of celestial events will occur within a 10-hour span, even closer together than the last time they took place in close proximity, in 1866, when the three events occurred within 20 hours of each other. It was bright that night 133 years ago, and American Indians used the brilliant evening to launch a devastating ambush on U.S. troops.

At no time since have the three astronomical events happened as close together. In fact, they haven't taken place in such proximity since at least 1850, the earliest year for which Sky and Telescope magazine's computers give accurate estimates, said Roger Sinnott, an associate editor at Sky and Telescope.

It has been nearly 70 years since the moon came this close to Earth. On Jan. 15, 1930, it was a mere 221,502 miles away.

Krupp's research has found ties between moon phases and ceremonial rites of the Pueblo Indians of the Southwest and even evidence of possible links between full moons and winter solstice and the arrangement of Stonehenge. But while people might look for primal connections between the moon and human behavior, this event should touch no deeper chord than passing curiosity, he said.

``You've got to take it for what it is,'' he said.

Astronomers trying to keep the public down to Earth have taken exception to exaggerated claims about what will be taking place. Alan MacRobert, an associate editor at Sky and Telescope, blames it on a misreading of an entry in the 1999 ``Farmer's Almanac'' that became the basis of a chain e-mail sent to Internet users around the country.

``This is an example of the power to turn a tiny kernel of truth into a mighty oak of exaggeration,'' MacRobert said.

But to those who believe in the spiritual significance of all full moons, including Wiccans and neo-pagans, the event could be a chance to reap positive energy from the confluence to carry into the new year.

``Magically, there will be a lot of energy happening,'' said Pat Devin, a Van Nuys resident and public information officer for Covenant of the Goddess, one of the largest Wiccan organizations in the country. ``I think there will be a heightened sense of awareness.''

Louis Friedman, executive director of the Planetary Society in Pasadena, said he hopes to get to a place far away from city lights to view the intense moonlight.

``The coincidence of four celestial events has really intrigued people,'' said Friedman, who counts an impending perihelion, the point at which Earth is closest to the sun, coming up on Jan. 3. ``The interest is just to know a little more about our (celestial) neighborhood.''

This event will actually be overshadowed by an arguably bigger lunar spectacle on Jan. 20. On that day, there will be a total eclipse of the full moon, Sinnott noted.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Dec 21, 1999
Words:676
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