Science

Friday Is Your Last Ever Chance To See Rare Lunar Event

Friday Is Your Last Ever Chance To See Rare Lunar Event
This Friday we'll have a Winter Solstice Full Moon and a meteor shower (Image: 27707/Pixaby)

Friday is the Winter Solstice - the longest night of the year - and nocturnal sky-watchers are in for a treat. This year, the Solstice coincides with a rare full moon - and the Ursid meteor shower will be nearing its peak.

The last time the full moon fell on the Solstice was in 2010, but it won't happen again in most of our lifetimes - with the next Winter Solstice Full Moon being nearly 80 years away, in 2094.

And, with sunset happening at around 4.15pm, stargazers will have more time than usual to spot both the shooting stars, and bask in the glow of this rare winter moon.

Unlike the Winter Solstice Full Moon, the Ursids are an annual event, beginning around December 17 and running until just after Christmas Day.

As many as five to ten meteors an hour could be streaking across the night sky, when Comet 8P/Tuttle hits our atmosphere on its annual orbit, when the Ursid meteor shower reaches its peak on Saturday night. However, Met Office weather forecasts predict the skies be less cloudy on Friday - making the Winter Solstice the best night for skywatchers.

If you wondering what shooting stars are, Nasa says: "A meteor is a space rock - or meteoroid - that enters Earth's atmosphere. As the space rock falls toward Earth, the resistance - or drag - of the air on the rock makes it extremely hot. What we see is a 'shooting star'.

"That bright streak is not actually the rock, but rather the glowing hot air as the hot rock zips through the atmosphere.

"When Earth encounters many meteoroids at once, we call it a meteor shower. Why would Earth encounter many meteoroids at once? Well, comets, like Earth and the other planets, also orbit the sun. Unlike the nearly circular orbits of the planets, the orbits of comets are usually quite lop-sided.

"As a comet gets closer to the sun, some of its icy surface boils off, releasing lots of particles of dust and rock. This comet debris gets strewn out along the comet's path, especially in the inner solar system (where we live) as the sun's heat boils off more and more ice and debris. Then, several times each year as Earth makes its journey around the sun, its orbit crosses the orbit of a comet, which means Earth smacks into a bunch of comet debris."