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The Buzz

December Includes Our Darkest Day, But Also Potential For Shooting Stars




(Photo via Shutterstock)

Winter is the cloudiest season in the Chicago area, and December is typically the area's cloudiest month, so sky-watching enthusiasts may need to cross their fingers that the weather cooperates if they want to wish upon a shooting star or take in any other celestial happenings any time soon.

The good news is that this is a busy time of year for meteor showers, with four active to start the month and two more beginning later in December, so that increases your chances of some sky-watching success. The southern Taurids, northern Taurids and Leonids meteor showers are all past their peak period, but all three will last just a little while longer, possibly creating opportunities to view a shooting star streaking across the nighttime sky before they end December 2.

On December 13, the Ursids meteor shower begins, lasting until December 24, according to the American Meteor Society. Peak activity for the Ursids will be the night of December 21 into December 22, but your likelihood of catching a glimpse from a shooting star is dampened because the moon will be nearly full and bright.

On December 26, the Quadrantids meteor shower begins, lasting until January 16. The Quadrantids peaks the night of January 2 into January 3, and this will be a good year for viewing the Quadrantids if the weather is favorable because the sky will be dark under a new moon, the meteor society reports.

December is, of course, also the month when we welcome winter — on December 1 for meteorological winter and on December 21 for astronomical winter. The beginning of astronomical winter is marked by the winter solstice, which is the day in which we have the shortest amount of daylight and, correspondingly, the longest amount of darkness.

The precise moment of the winter solstice is when the sun is directly over the Tropic of Capricorn, the farthest point south it will reach all year. This year, the solstice will occur at 2:59 p.m. December 21, according to the National Weather Service.  

The solstice in the northern hemisphere is exactly the opposite of how people who live in the southern hemisphere experience it. While those of us north of the equator experience our longest night, south of the equator they will have their longest day and shortest night, according to EarthSky. And for those south of the equator, the December 21 solstice is the summer solstice, marking the first day of summer.

December will also include a total solar eclipse, but you would have to be traveling far, far from home to see it. The December 4 solar eclipse will be fully visible only in Antarctica, while people in the southernmost areas of Africa, Australia, New Zealand and South America will experience a partial solar eclipse, according to EarthSky.

The next total solar eclipse that will be visible in the United States will be on April 8, 2024. On that day, the path of totality — the area in which the sun will appear fully blocked by the moon — will sweep northeast from Texas to Maine crossing southern Illinois in the process, according to the American Astronomical Society. While Will County is a few hundred miles north of the path of totality, we — and almost everyone in North America — will experience a partial solar eclipse.

The full moon for the month will be December 18, with it reaching its fullest point at 10:35 p.m. December's full moon is called the cold moon, because it usually occurs around the time when winter weather begins to set in, according to Farmers' Almanac. Other names for December's full moon include the long night's moon and the moon before Yule.

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