“What’s all the fuss about? It’s just a full Moon.”
Every 29.5 days the Moon reaches its full phase. On that evening—and only on that evening—it rises opposite a sunset, more or less, creeping above the eastern horizon draped in pale orange hues.
It’s among the most impressive sights in nature, and our ability to predict it to the minute for any location on Earth never fails to impress.
Try it with this week’s “Long Night’s Moon,” which is officially “full”—i.e. 100% illuminated by the Sun—on the morning of Thursday December 12 (12/12), but best viewed the previous evening. Why the specific time recommendations? The trick about catching a moonrise is to watch it in the twilight while the surrounding environment is still somewhat lit. Seeing a moonrise in the pitch dark isn’t quite as dramatic.
Here’s how best to witness the final full Moon of 2019
- Get the exact time of Moonrise for your location.
- Visit The Photographer’s Ephemeris and choose a location that has a good view looking east. Anywhere that looks over water is good (you’ll see the Moon’s light reflected in the water).
- Check the cloud cover for your location. If it’s not going to be clear, save your location research for January 10’s, 2020’s first full Moon.
- Take along any pair of binoculars or a superzoom camera on a tripod (even a smartphone) for an astonishing close-up.
- Get to your location a few minutes before the time of moonrise.
- Be patient. The Moon’s orangey brightness will emerge on the eastern horizon a few minutes after the officially predicted time. If it doesn’t, it’s stuck in a few horizon clouds … just be patient.
When is December’s full Moon?
Officially, the “Long Nights Moon” occurs at 5:12 a.m. Universal Co-ordinated Time on Thursday, December 12, 2019. At that precise time the Moon is 100% illuminated by the Sun. That’s 5:12 a.m. GMT and 12:12 a.m. EST on Thursday (hence the ‘12:12, 12/12 Moon’ name), and 9:12 a.m. PST on Wednesday. However, that’s all largely irrelevant because the best time to look at a full Moon is as it rises above the eastern horizon, and that means sunset on Wednesday, December 11 from Europe and North America.
It’s also a good night to watch Venus and Saturn super-close to each other in the southwestern sky, which will be becoming visible at the exact same time as the “Long Night’s Moon” (I’ve written a separate post on this).
If you’re in Europe, you can also watch the moonrise on Thursday evening since it occurs relatively soon after sunset.
When to see December’s moonset
If it’s not convenient to look for the rise of the “Long Night’s Moon” on Wednesday evening, or you suffer from cloudy skies, why not try catching moonset on Thursday morning? The thing about a full Moon is that it shines all night long, so it’s possible to watch a full Moon setting in the west around the time of sunrise. It’s visually as magical as witnessing a full moonrise.
As a bonus, this time of year in the northern hemisphere is a great time to watch a moonset because it occurs at a pretty civilised time.
If you’re in Europe, it’s actually “better” to watch the moonset on Thursday morning than the moonrise on Wednesday evening because it occurs almost in-sync with sunrise.
When is the next full Moon?
The first full Moon of next year will be the “Wolf Moon” on Friday, January 10, 2020. It will also be a penumbral lunar eclipse, which happens when the mon enters Earth’s fuzzy outer shadow. No-one in North America will be able to witness the “Wolf Moon” losing its glare, but in Europe and Asia our satellite will take become a truly odd sight.
Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.