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Science & Environment

Look Up! Astronomer Details Upcoming Trifecta Of Celestial Activity

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Forget Netflix tonight. The best show is outside, where there's a trifecta of celestial activity.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

First there's a full moon. The Farmer's Almanac calls it a snow moon. We'll let Jackie Faherty explain part two of tonight's show. She's an astronomer at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

JACKIE FAHERTY: Every now and again when you get a full moon, there's an opportunity to have a full moon that's rather special. And we're getting one of those tonight. It's an eclipse called a penumbral eclipse. The moon is going to pass into the shadow of the Earth, so for about four full hours - two hours getting dim, and then two hours getting bright. The moon is not going to be as bright as you would normally see it.

SIEGEL: And here's the third act - a fast moving comet. It's called 45P, and Faherty says it has a green hue to it.

MCEVERS: 45P is on its closest approach to Earth. And close is a relative term, it's over 7 million miles away.

SIEGEL: And you can try to catch it with some binoculars or a telescope and some guidance.

FAHERTY: I'm an astronomer that looks at the sky all the time, and there's - it's very difficult to locate an object like this. So I would grab a finding chart from online and have it handy when I go outside. But the general area is this constellation called Hercules. It's a big constellation. It's in the Northern Hemisphere, so that you can catch it in the North.

MCEVERS: Faherty says even if you miss the comet, that full moon is still worth a good long look.

FAHERTY: Go outside and look at the structure of the moon. It's got mountains, mountainous structures. It's got craters on it. It's got ridges. It's got dark spots and light spots. The moon is a really good object to look at to get inspired about astronomy.

SIEGEL: Astronomer Jackie Faherty lining up your winter watch list. And she says if you're really inspired to go back out tomorrow night, Orion's Belt is beautiful in the night sky. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.