Christmas Eve Sky Show

Dec 20, 2007
Christmas Eve Sky Show
The Moon photographed by P-M Heden of Vallentuna, Sweden.

It's Christmas Eve, and you're snuggled cozily in your den. A glowing fire gently crackles and pops in the fireplace, and your head starts to droop as you nod off. Just then, something cold and wet nudges your cheek. You open your eyes to stare directly into a large black nose. It's time to take the dog for his walk.

Grumbling in vain, you put on your coat, snap the leash onto the wiggling dog's collar, open the door to a rush of cold air. You step outside and enter a magical landscape.

The night isn't dark, it's glowing with a silvery-white light. Up above, the 98% full moon looks huge and clear in the azure sky. It just might be the brightest moon you've ever seen. That's because it's the highest-riding full moon until the year 2023.

Christmas Eve Sky Show

And not far from the beautiful moon glows fireplace-red Mars. This Christmas Eve, Mars is at its closest to Earth for the next nine years. Mars is also "at opposition." That's astronomy-lingo for "directly opposite the sun." It means Mars is up whenever the sun is down: on Christmas Eve, the Red Planet will be visible all night long.

As Christmas scenes go, it doesn't get much better. Gliding in formation across the sky, the moon and Mars seem so close you could almost reach up, grab the pair and bounce them down the street for Fido to retrieve.

Or maybe you could lasso them, as George says in the movie It's a Wonderful Life. "Just say the word and I'll throw a lasso around it and pull it down. Hey! That's a pretty good idea! I'll give you the moon, Mary...."

In the years ahead, NASA is going to lasso the moon. NASA's giant Ares rocket, still on the drawing board, will take form and then take mankind back to that brilliant silver orb where scientists will learn how to harness the moon's powers.

Plans are to establish a lunar base for exploration and use the moon's surface as a springboard to even further destinations. At the moon's poles there is evidence of hydrogen and perhaps actual water frozen in the soil. Furthermore, ordinary moonrocks are made of minerals that contain more than 40% oxygen. These are resources that can be used to produce rocket fuel, breathable air and a welcome drink on a dry, dusty world.

Maybe on some future Christmas Eve, one of us will step outside of our cozy lunar cabin and walk our space-suited dog with long, floating steps down some dusty lunar road. We'll look up and say, "There's a pretty full Earth tonight!"

But on this frosty Christmas Eve, your feet crunch Earth's cold ground with a crisp clear sound as you walk back toward the house looking up through the silvery stillness at the lovely moon and its bright partner, Mars. The only other sounds you hear are dog tags jingling like sleigh bells. Suddenly a shadow flits across the moon. A cloud? A plane? A sleigh! Maybe those were sleigh bells you heard!

Smiling to yourself, you open the door to go back inside, taking one last glance at the night sky and one of the loveliest heavenly sights you’ll see for years.

Don't forget to thank Fido.

Source: by Dauna Coulter, Science@NASA

Explore further: NASA's Europa mission begins with selection of science instruments

Related Stories

The pale blue dot and other 'selfies' of Earth

Apr 06, 2015

Twenty-five years ago a set of images were taken that provided a unique view of Earth and helped highlight the fragility of our existence, and the importance of our stewardship.

Dust cloud, aurora detected around Mars

Mar 18, 2015

A NASA spacecraft circling Mars has detected a mysterious dust cloud and a vibrant aurora, both unexpected phenomena on Earth's neighboring planet, researchers said Wednesday.

Comet Finlay surprise outburst visible in binoculars

Jan 19, 2015

Lost sleep at night, fingers tapping on the keyboard by day. Darn comets are keeping me busy! But of course that's a good problem. Comet 15P/Finlay, which had been languishing in the western sky at dusk at ...

Can astronomy explain the biblical Star of Bethlehem?

Dec 24, 2014

Bright stars top Christmas trees in Christian homes around much of the world. The faithful sing about the Star of Wonder that guided the wise men to a manger in the little town of Bethlehem, where Jesus was ...

NASA: 'There's your new spacecraft, America!"

Dec 05, 2014

(AP)—NASA's newest space vehicle, Orion, accomplished its first test flight with precision and pizazz Friday, shooting more than 3,600 miles (5,800 kilometers) out from Earth for a hyperfast, hot return ...

Recommended for you

Image: Europa's Jupiter-facing hemisphere

9 hours ago

This 12-frame mosaic provides the highest resolution view ever obtained of the side of Jupiter's moon Europa that faces the giant planet. It was obtained on Nov. 25, 1999 by the camera onboard the Galileo ...

SpaceX cleared for US military launches

10 hours ago

The US Air Force has certified private company SpaceX to launch military satellites, opening the doors to a lucrative market previously held solely by a Lockheed and Boeing joint venture.

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

AngryLabRat
not rated yet Dec 22, 2007
Riding high and looming large. By the time it's at the same position again, will there be men looking back down at us again? Or are the various national lunar missions just lunacy?

See my blog at:
http://angrylabra...lse.html

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.