There are some advantages to the evenings getting darker earlier, namely the chance to view the stars and planets for longer. For stargazers, November hits new cosmic heights with a super full moon offering a special highlight.
There are also some more spectacular events coming to the night sky over the winter months:
- Geminid meteor shower
- Ring of Fire eclipse
Super full moon - 14.11.2016
The moon orbits the Earth in an oval pattern. When it reaches its near-Earth point (perigee) during a full moon, the phenomenon is known as a “supermoon” when the body appears much larger and brighter in the sky.
A supermoon will be visible for the last two months of 2016, but on November 14, it will be the biggest and most illuminated when it is at its closest point to Earth since 1948. According to NASA, this won’t happen again until November 25, 2034. Depending on your location, the moon could appear up to 14 per cent bigger and 30 per cent brighter than an average full moon. A smaller super full moon will also appear on December 14.
Observer tip: Due to an optical illusion, the moon looks even larger when it’s near the horizon and you look at it through trees or buildings.
Geminid meteor shower - 4.12.2016 until 17.12.2016
The December full moon does have a small disadvantage. From December 4 to 17, the Geminid meteor shower will be pulled past the Earth. Ironically, the night of December 14 will see the greatest activity but unfortunately, the shooting stars will be more difficult to detect. You should also try to spot them on the nights of the 8, 9 or 10 December.
Observer tip: Shooting stars are best observed in a low-light region lying on your back, such as a park free of as much artificial light pollution as possible.
Ring of Fire eclipse - 02.26.2017
As the moon moves in front of the sun, the star’s larger diameter appears to surround the moon with a “ring of fire.” This is known as an annular eclipse.
On February 26, a spectacular solar eclipse will be visible in certain parts of the world. But to look at it, you’ll have to travel to the southern hemisphere. The darkness will sweep over south and west Africa, South America, as well as the Antarctic, Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans. And if you’ve always had a trip to Coyhaique in Chile in mind, now would be the opportunity to plan it. Coyhaique is the only city where you can see the total eclipse.
Observer tip: If you stay in the UK, you’ll still be able to witness a penumbral lunar eclipse, when the moon passes through the faint outer part of the Earth’s shadow. This starts on 10 February 2017, at 22:34 pm, reaches its peak at 00:43 am and ends at 02:53 am.
The spectacular Aurora Borealis is caused by eruptions on the sun releasing particles which are carried by solar winds to the Earth’s atmosphere.
But you don’t necessarily have to travel very far to see the rare Northern Lights which brighten the sky with colour. It’s possible to witness the spectacle here in the UK. In recent years, these incredible dancing light shows have lit up the skies over Scotland and parts of Northern Ireland, northern England, and Wales.