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Moon at Its Brightest, Highest - Planets Put on Show Above Oregon, Washington Coast

Published 12/25/23 at 5:55 a.m.
y Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Moon at Its Brightest, Highest - Planets Put on Show Above Oregon, Washington Coast

(Portland, Oregon) – Even though the winter solstice has come and gone, how the sun and moon work above us is still doing some interesting things, including causing a minor king tides event over the next few days on the Oregon coast and Washington coast. You'll find the moon is higher and a little brighter than normal above us, and some of our neighbor planets are putting on a bit of a show. (Photo of Manzanita Oregon Coast Beach Connection: movement of moon and stars)

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Jim Todd, astronomy expert from Portland's OMSI said the full moon that's coming up on December 26 (Tuesday) will be the brightest of the year - in fact that is so all winter. That's not just because the sky is clearer on those cold, winter nights.

“This coming December 26th, the Full Moon will reach its highest point due south,” Todd said. “The full moon nearest the Winter Solstice is the highest Full Moon of the Year. Plus, notice the white as it rises from the east.”

Just like the sun, the moon rises in the east and sets in the west. Near midnight – if weather on the Oregon coast or Washington coast allows – you'll see the moon gets to its highest point due south.

Conversely, the sun is at its lowest point of the year at noon on the winter solstice.

During the summer solstice, Todd said, the moon reaches its lowest points in the sky. In fact, it lingers there much of the season, barely getting above the 21-degree mark. It's also then that all the particulates in the air come into play. As the moon loiters so low, there's more atmosphere between you and it. So all that atmosphere creates orange or red colors.

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That's also part of the recipe for the green flash at sunset along the Washington coast or Oregon coast: there's more atmosphere at sunset for the rays to get through.

"And because Full Moons occur when the Moon is directly opposite the Sun, you can imagine the Moon and Sun as sitting on either side of a celestial see-saw,” Todd said. “On the day when the Sun is highest in the middle of the day (in Summer), the Moon is at its lowest high point at midnight; and on the day when the Sun is at its lowest high point in the middle of the day (in Winter), the Moon is at its highest high point at midnight.”

That see-saw action right now is helping to create a smaller king tides event (not like the ones coming up in January and February) – even though we just had a big one in December. These tides are helping to create some of the surf warnings happening this week along the Oregon and Washington coastlines.

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Todd said Jupiter and Saturn will also be a lovely addition in the night skies throughout much of January.

“Jupiter will be very obvious in the southeast at sunset and will be visible until a few hours before dawn,” Todd said. “ It will be in the constellation Aries the Ram. It will shine at bright -2.7 magnitude.”

However, Jupiter reached opposition back in early November, which means it was directly between us and the sun. It is starting to recede and fade for awhile.

“Saturn will shine in the southwest after sunset. It will be in the constellation Aquarius the Water Bearer,” he said. “Our solar system's beautiful ringed planet will be fading a bit this month as it recedes from Earth and will shine at +0.9 magnitude.”

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Andre' GW Hagestedt is editor, owner and primary photographer / videographer of Oregon Coast Beach Connection, an online publication that sees over 1 million pageviews per month. He is also author of several books about the coast.

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