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Triple-Decker of Trippy Astronomy Above Washington / Oregon Coast: Moon Eats Mars

Published 12/06/22 at 5:41 PM
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Triple-Decker of Trippy Astronomy Above Washington / Oregon Coast: Moon and Mars

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(Cannon Beach, Oregon) – Get ready to get a little tripped out on those skies above the Pacific Northwest in December, including the Oregon coast and Washington coast. An especially chilly full moon rises, one that will be occulting Mars (meaning blocking it), and there's a bundle of interesting little factoids surrounding these phenomena. On top of it, we also have the peak of the Geminid meteor showers starting soon. (Above: Moon over Waldport, Oregon Coast Beach Connection photo)

The occultation of planets like Mars happens a lot, actually, but this one is rather special. Normally, these are just seen on a smaller scale, by a particular area on Earth or two – like down to a city and surrounding area. This one, however, will be seen throughout most of the U.S. , including the Washington coast and Oregon coast.

Jim Todd, astronomy expert with Portland's OMSI, said this occultation happens on December 7 (Wednesday night). Of course, it's going to be cloudy just about everywhere along the Washington coast and Oregon coast. UDPATE: Previously the south coast looked like it might be a little clearer on December 7. Now, Oregon's south coast, from about Coos Bay southward, will be cloudy, so catching it in Coos Bay, Bandon, Gold Beach and Brookings is as unlikely as up north.

Courtesy OMSI

“This is known as occultation, as the moon covers up or eclipses a planet,” Todd said.

At 6:48 p.m., Mars – a bright red – will get sucked underneath the full moon. There it will remain for an hour, emerging at 7:49 p.m.

The one bit of bad luck for Oregon's south coast is that this all happens 22 degrees from the horizon to the east, which may be blocked by regional mountains.

After that, Mars will be to the upper right of the moon.

“Please note, the nearby bright red star is Aldebaran of Taurus to the far right of the moon,” Todd said. “The Pleiades star cluster will be high above the moon and Mars.”

Extremely bright Jupiter will be not far from either, however.

The full moon in December is called the Cold Moon, for all the cold weather that begins to happen now. It rises bright white on December 7

The term Cold Moon comes from the Mohawk tribes of the U.S., while another term is the Long Night Moon, coming from the Mohicans.

Todd said the full moon closest to the winter solstice (December 21) is also the highest full moon of the year.

“At 12:10 a.m., the moon will be 70 degrees above the southern horizon, its highest altitude for the year,” Todd said.

If this is visible on the Oregon coast and Washington coast, make sure to grab your pro camera gear and tripod and take some night pics. Bright moonlight on beaches or ocean can be magical to photograph.

Todd said Mars was at its closest distance to Earth at 50.3 million miles on December 1. So it's still unusually close.

Mars is currently in retrograde, meaning it will appear to suddenly reverse course in the sky.

Moonlight on the sea near Manzanita

“This reversal of direction is a phenomenon that all the solar system's outer planets periodically undergo, a few months before they reach opposition,” Todd said. “The retrograde motion is caused by the Earth's own motion around the Sun. As the Earth circles the Sun, our perspective changes, and this cause the apparent positions of objects to move from side to side in the sky within a one-year period. This nodding motion is superimposed on the planet's long-term eastward motion through the constellations.”

Meanwhile, the Geminids will be peaking soon, with their actual peak in just a tad over a week. These are among the brightest and most intense of the year, and when skies clear up for Washington coast towns like Ocean Park or Long Beach, or Oregon coast burghs like Seaside, Manzanita or Yachats, those dark regions will provide a magnificent show. Spectacular Geminid Meteor Showers Coming to Oregon Coast, Washington Coast 

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