This Saturday morning (November 24), at 9.30am EST, the moon will be full, shining down on the now bare trees and stark late autumn landscape. Did you notice where it rose, and – if you were up in the morning – how far north it set?
As the year goes on the full moon steadily rises further north of east through December, when it is at it’s northernmost point. During the cold nights of November through January the full moon glides high above the ground. And this is due to the moon’s orbit around the earth, and it’s position on the ecliptic.
The ecliptic is the apparent path the sun (and most solar system objects) take during its journey through the sky. Because the Earth’s poles are tilted 23.5 degrees, you see the sun at various positions in the sky depending on the time of the year. In the summer months the sun is high in the noon sky, but in the winter months it rides low on the horizon.
The moon follows the ecliptic as well, but with the added difference of an extra 5° of inclination as it orbits the earth. So at times the moon can be either higher or lower than the position of the sun, depending on several factors. And since the full moon is opposite the sun in the sky (by 180°), when the sun rides low, the moon rides high in the sky. That is why you will see the full moon in June low in the southern sky, and the full moon in December gliding high above your head.
This month’s moon is also the Beaver Moon, when trappers try to get as many pelts and furs as possible for the cold winter months.So if it’s clear around the full moon during the cold winter months, bundle up, go outside, and see how the landscape glows in the pale, cold moonlight.