The present full moon, the one that was up there Tuesday night and will be only a little less than full on Wednesday, is called the Cold Moon. The name is appropriate for December, and particularly apt in this December, when it is expected to become truly frigid on Thursday.
And perhaps even more striking, this full moon is also a supermoon. Anyone is pardoned for objecting that we just had a supermoon. That is true. This happens to be the third supermoon in three months, just one more of the distinctions that have characterized 2016.
A supermoon has come to be recognized as a full moon that occurs when the moon is also at its closest approach to the Earth. The moon’s orbit is elliptical, or egg shaped, and therefore includes points where it is closest to us, and points where it is farthest.
A full moon coming when the moon is near its closest point to us is a bit bigger and brighter than the average full moon.
The current supermoon is not so super as last month’s supermoon, which was a true phenomenon. At no moment in this century had the moon been so full and quite so close. The combination of fullness and proximity will not recur until 2034, scientists say.
But the current full moon nevertheless has been recognized as a supermoon, satisfying the requirements laid down by enthusiasts of the moon and the fascinating features of its orbit.
This full moon is the 12th and last of 2016. It is also the last supermoon of the year. According to the Sea and Sky website, next year will have only a single supermoon, and that one will not occur until almost a year from now.
Last year also had three full supermoons, according to the EarthSkywebsite. They occurred in August, September and October.
In our hemisphere, the Northern, Super Full Moons appear larger than those that occur during the rest of the year. An explanation is provided by the website timeanddate.com.
In the Northern hemisphere, the Earth is closer to the sun in winter than in summer. That means the sun’s gravity exerts a stronger pull on the moon, which draws it just a little closer to the Earth at the time it is full.
Some think the moon always gives the suggestion of being cold. To offer an example, Oberon in Act II of A Midsummer Night’s Dream speaks of having seen Cupid “Flying between the cold moon and the earth.”
But although the moon and its light always have a chilly tinge about them, we are now witnessing what is accepted as the year’s one true Cold Moon.