Whether meteors are your thing or you're lured by the bright light of the supermoon, there's a lot going on in the December sky. Here's a rundown of some exciting end-of-the-year events for stargazing fans.
This year, the full moons in October, November and December all are supermoons. According to EarthSky, astrologer Richard Nolle developed the term supermoon more than 30 years ago. The term only began to be used recently, however. Nolle defined a supermoon as "a new or full moon which occurs with the moon at or near (within 90 percent of) its closest approach to Earth in a given orbit."
The final segment of this year's supermoon trifecta will be on Dec. 13. The moon technically will reach its peak fullness at 7:05 p.m. EST, but it will appear full when you look in the sky the night before and shortly after the peak experience, says EarthSky.
Geminids meteor shower
The supermoon falls on the same night as the peak of the Geminids meteor shower on Dec. 13-14. According to NASA, the Geminids are "typically one of the best and most reliable of the annual meteor showers." They usually start around 9 or 10 p.m., making them a favorite for kids to watch because they get going before bedtime.
But because they coincide with the bright, full moon in 2016, the light of the moon will reduce visibility "five to ten fold," according to NASA.
The December solstice marks the longest night and shortest day of the year for those in the Northern Hemisphere. In 2016, the solstice happens on Dec. 21 at 5:44 a.m. EST. The tilt of the Earth on its axis is what causes winter and summer, explains EarthSky. During the December solstice, the Northern Hemisphere is leaning the farthest away from the sun for the year.
Astronomers say that the December solstice is the official start of winter, but meteorologists disagree. Meteorological seasons are based on the annual temperature cycle, explains NOAA, while astronomical seasons are based on the position of the Earth in relation to the sun.
There's really nothing to see for the winter solstice, other than knowing that each night from then on will be a little bit shorter and the days will start to grow longer again.
Ursids meteor shower
The Ursids radiate from the Big Dipper or Ursa Minor. They run from Dec. 17-23, but the best time to see the Ursids, according to NASA, will be from midnight on Dec. 21 until about 1 a.m. on Dec. 22. There's a chance they'll also be active on Dec. 23 and Dec. 24, too.