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Christmas full moon will be 1st since 1977

| Saturday, Dec. 19, 2015, 7:30 p.m.
The moon turned an orange hue Tuesday, April 15, 2015, during a total lunar eclipse in the sky above Phoenix.

Perhaps Rudolph, with his nose so bright, can take Christmas off this year.

Christmas will feature a full moon, the first since 1977.

“I had hair back then,” said Dan Malerbo, the planetarium coordinator at the Carnegie Science Center who has projected the night sky for 29 years.

The first “Star Wars” movie was in theaters that year. The Steelers lost to the Denver Broncos in the playoffs Christmas Eve. President Jimmy Carter encouraged Americans and the nation to spread peace and good will around the world in his Christmas message.

The moon will rise Christmas Eve at 99 percent and become full at 6:11 a.m., likely just before the kids wake up and clamor for presents around the tree.

The weather may not be ideal for moon watching. The National Weather Service — in Moon, strangely enough — predicts a front moving through Christmas with clouds and rain before and after it.

“Probably not the best shot at the full moon,” said Mike Kennedy, a meteorologist.

Full moons on Christmas are a matter of timing. A full moon happens about every 29 days. Christmas comes but once a year, so without much aligning of the stars, the two are destined to coincide. There were Christmas full moons in 1901 and 1920. The next Christmas full moon will happen in 2034 with another in 2053.

Well before then, Astrobotic hopes to land on the moon. The Strip District space exploration company aims to launch its Griffin lander by the end of 2017.

The lander will carry three rovers: Andy, developed by Carnegie Mellon University; a Japanese rover; and Uni, a Chilean rover meant to symbolize unity, said Astrobotic's Jackie Erickson.

“The goal is to send something up to the moon that will inspire generations to come,” Erickson said of the Chilean mission.

Erickson said the lander will leave the ashes of Steven Jenks' mother, who signed letters to her son while he fought in Iraq with: “No matter how lonely you feel and how far you are, always look at the moon and know I am with you. I love you to the moon and back.”

It will carry a computer memory card full of artwork, music, photographs, poetry and writings from students at Balko Public School, a 155-student school in the panhandle of Oklahoma.

“Some students never look up into the invitation of the cosmos at all, seeing their future as locked to the land and to this place. We believe that the inclusion of our video card in this lunar mission will be a beacon for all the young people of Balko, Okla.,” the students wrote in an essay that won them a spot on the Astrobotic mission.

Constellations and planets can be hard to see, especially among the city lights. The names of stars are lost on most of us. But the moon is visible nearly every night.

“It's probably people's only connection to the sky,” Malerbo said.

The Christmas full moon isn't steeped in religious or historical significance. George Washington led his Continental Army across the Delaware River under a full moon Christmas night in 1776, but clouds and a storm likely obscured it, allowing the troops to stage a surprise attack on Trenton, N.J.

David A. Weintraub, an associate professor of physics and astronomy at Vanderbilt University, said the Gospel of Matthew's Star of Bethlehem on the night Jesus was born was likely a reference to astrology, not astronomy.

But that doesn't mean it's not special. Full moons are spectacular and beautiful, Weintraub said.

“In modern times, people don't look up too much. Most of us are inside watching television; we're not looking up outside at night,” he said. “It's one of the few times of the month that people even notice there is something in the sky.”

“Get out there and enjoy it,” Weintraub said. “And if there is snow on the ground, and it's Christmas, and you're in love, and you're holding hands walking down a sidewalk, it doesn't get much better.”

Aaron Aupperlee is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7986 or aaupperlee@tribweb.com.

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