December’s Cold Popping Trees Full Moon

Happy December Full Moon!

Welcome to Issue 12 of Volume VI of Earth, Moon and Stars!

(click any of these section links)

   I’d be delighted if you were to leave a comment (down at the bottom), letting me know what you like or dislike, or if you have any questions or requests. I’ll keep your comment private if you so request.


   Ms. Luna will become exact full Dec 6 (Saturday) at 12:27 UTC; correspondingly earlier in time zones west of the Prime Meridian, later in time zones to the east. (See discussion below in Seasonal Calendar for some clarification about UTC and 24-hour time.)

    Because fullness this time will occur close to noon at the Prime Meridian, if you’re located east of England but west of the International Date Line, your best bet to see fullness will be Saturday night. It will be 7:27 am Saturday in New York when fullness occurs, so for East Coasters she will appear equally full late Friday night and early Saturday night. Further west is going to favor Friday night, but she will appear about the same to most eyes either night. Check Seasonal Calendar below for times in some representative time zones.

   Who called this month’s full moon “Popping Trees Moon”? And why?  See Moon Names for details.

   Solstice time is again approaching (Dec 21 or 22, depending on where you are). See Seasonings section below for some interesting details.

   The twelfth installment in our Astronomy and Lore of the Zodiac series, this month featuring Sagittarius (plus a teaser about the thirteenth constellation, Ophiuchus). The sun (the actual sun, not the astrological sun) is currently (November 29 thru December 18) passing in front of the constellation Ophiuchus; it will then enter Sagittarius and continue moving through it until January 20. Aries is the constellation most readily observable now and into January. Read about all of these at Starwatch.

   We found a beautiful piece by poet Hal Borland, who helps us feel “December Moon” in Moon Poetry.

   This is the final month in our series of Robin Samiljan’s beautiful moon paintings. Check out her delicious “Cold Moon” watercolor at Moon Art.

    Our two astrologers Molly and Emily give us the highup and the lowdown on Ms. Luna’s current visit in the sign of Gemini. Check them out in our Astrology section.

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Moon Dates and Times

December’s full moon      Saturday December 6 12:27 UTC; 7:27 am EST; 4:27 am PST
.                                              Saturday December 6 2:27 am HAST; 2:27 pm IST; 8:27 pm PHT

December solstice            Sunday December 21 23:03 UTC; 6:03 pm EST; 3:03 pm PST; 1:03 pm HAST
.                                             Monday December 22 1:03 am IST; 7:03 am PHT

December’s new moon   Monday December 22 01:36 UTC; 3:36 am IST; 9:36 am PHT
.                                            Sunday December 21 3:36 pm HAST; 5:36 pm PST; 8:36 pm EST

January’s full moon       Sunday January 5 04:54 UTC; 6:54 am IST; 12:54 pm PHT
.                                           Saturday January 4 6:54 pm HAST; 8:54 pm PST; 11:54 pm EST

.                               Check Moon Giant to find Full Moon and New Moon times for your local time zone.

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Coordinated Universal Time  (UTC)
.   Note that in my Seasonal Calendars (and sometimes other sections in my posts) I include Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) in addition to the time zones I’ve chosen to represent. This allows anyone to calculate a listed event for their own time zone if they know their offset from UTC. (See Time and Date’s list of time zones, and also their very handy time zone converter.)
   In response to some bewildered inquiries about UTC and 24-hour time notation, I offer this brief explanation: UTC is the atomic clock time standard that is the worldwide basis for civil time today. While UTC is not a time zone itself, Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) is; the time in GMT is, for general intents and purposes, the same as UTC. (That’s the brief version. See the references in the next paragraph for more detail.)
.  To avoid ambiguity, UTC is always expressed in 24-hour format, never with “am” or “pm”. Thus 2 am is 02:00 UTC, and 27 minutes after 4 in the afternoon (4:27 pm) is 16:27 UTC. (More details at WikipediaNASA, TimeandDate.)

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Moon Reflecting in Alaskan Lake (

Moon Reflecting in Alaskan Lake

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December’s Popping Trees Moon

   As you know (especially if you’ve been following this blog), many cultures in both hemispheres kept track of the seasons by giving distinctive names to each recurring full moon, appropriate for the month in which it occurred, and keyed – naturally enough – to the goings-on in their natural environment . . . the weather, the plants, the animals.

Popping Trees Moon
.   I’m always intrigued by moon names whose derivation is not so readily obvious (such as “Snow Moon”). This time it was Popping Trees Moon. What was popping? Surely it wasn’t tree flowers popping out in December. Some brief research found that the Arapaho and Lakota Sioux used this sobriquet, apparently in reference to the snapping of twigs when icy winds blew. Many of us today can relate. (refs Keith’s Moon Names, Huffington Post)

Space Moon Behind Icy Trees (desktopnexus)

Fantasy Moon Behind Icy Trees [desktopnexus]

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December Solstice

   Sunday (21st — see exact times above) will mark the December solstice (winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, summer solstice in the Southern Hemisphere) — the time when the sun “stops” in its (apparent) movement southward and then begins moving north. (Remember – solstice means “sun standing still”.)

   Daylight hours in the Northern Hemisphere have been waning ever since the June solstice. We in the North have paid our dues — it’s time for the return of the light.

   Below is a simplified diagram showing the Earth in its orbit around the Sun, with four key season points identified. (Note that the season identifiers, such as “summer” and “winter”, are appropriate for the Northern Hemisphere; rotate the names 180° to apply to the Southern Hemisphere. Also note that, in contrast, the names of the two Tropics are fixed and thus do not “rotate”, as they do not describe seasons.)

Seasons Earth Orbit (NASA)

Seasons Earth Orbit (NASA)

     If you take note around this time of year when the rising sun reaches its southernmost point on the horizon, this day we call the December Solstice, or the Winter Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. This is when the sun halts its southward progression and, for just an instant, “stands still” before edging northward again. (From Latin, sol = “sun” and -stice from sistere “to make stand”. Thus you can translate solstice as “sun standing still”.)

  The circle of latitude in the Southern Hemisphere where the sun is directly overhead at noon on the December solstice is called the Tropic of Capricorn. It is the southernmost latitude where the sun can be seen directly overhead.

Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn

Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn

     In the Northern Hemisphere this is the day with the shortest amount of daylight. The further north you are, the shorter the length of daylight. The winter solstice is sometimes hailed as the “return of the light”, as the length of daylight slowly begins to increase after this day.

   On this day all places above the Arctic Circle experience “polar night“. If you are exactly on the Arctic Circle, this one day out of the year the sun does not appear above the horizon at all for 24 hours. As you move closer to the North Pole, the length of time the sun stays hidden increases, until at the North Pole the polar night lasts for six months; you don’t see the sun at all from the Autumnal equinox until the Spring equinox.

   In the Southern Hemisphere the December Solstice is the Summer Solstice and is the day with the longest amount of daylight. On this one day at the Antarctic Circle, the sun does not set at all; instead it traces a complete circle in the sky as the day progresses, just grazing the horizon at midnight. The NOAA diagram below illustrates how the sun appears in the sky on the June Solstice from a vantage point anywhere on the Arctic Circle. Just replace “Arctic” with “Antarctic” and you have the same experience at the Antarctic Circle on the December Solstice.

Sun’s path on the solstice (NASA)

     If you study the Seasonal Calendar above, you may notice that (at least this time) a new moon occurs less than three hours after the solstice. Is this significant? Does one have anything to do with the other? The answer to both questions is ‘no’. Moon phases are due to its monthly orbit around Earth, while the sun’s apparent movements are due to the Earth’s annual orbit around the Sun; the two are essentially independent of one another. Intersections of moon phases with sun position, while predictable and calculatable, are astronomically coincidental.

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Astronomy and Lore of the Zodiac

     If you’ve been following this blog since fall of last of year, you should be familiar by now with the basics of the zodiac. See the January post to brush up on the basics of the “astronomy behind the astrology”. Below is a diagram we’ve been using that you may find helpful in visualizing the zodiac.

     Briefly speaking, the astronomical zodiac consists of thirteen constellations that lie along the ecliptic. (“Thirteen?” you say? “I always heard there were twelve.” Well, this has to do with the difference between the astronomical and astrological zodiacs, which we touched on in the January post. We will reveal the rest of the story in next month’s post.)

     You may recall from discussion on this blog in previous months that the ecliptic is the annual path that the sun appears to travel across the backdrop of the fixed stars. (The name ecliptic derives from the fact that lunar and solar eclipses can occur only when the moon crosses it.)

Zodiac diagram

Astrological zodiac diagram

     Early astrologers idealized the ecliptic as a circle, divided it into twelve equal segments or “signs”, and gave each sign the name of the constellation it was near on the ecliptic at the time. Today the positions of the signs and the constellations, while still having the same (or similar) names, do not correspond with each other in the sky. This is due to a number of unrelated astronomical phenomena. (See the January post for details.)

Constellations of the Month: Ophiuchus and Sagittarius

   Okay – time to add confusion . . . and hopefully clear some up at the same time. Technically speaking, the sun is now (November 29 thru December 18) in front of the constellation Ophiuchus. What? Never heard of it! Well, that’s mainly because it’s the thirteenth constellation living along the ecliptic and thus part of the astronomical zodiac. For various (convenient) reasons, it never made it into the astrological zodiac, and thus hardly anyone says “my sign is Ophiuchus”.  But that may be changing. We’ll finish up our Astronomy Behind the Astrology series by delving into Ophiuchus in our January post. In the meantime, we’ll look at Sagittarius this month, since the astrological sun is in this sign from November 21 to December 21. (See below for the difference between where the sun actually is these days vs. its astrological position.)

Sagittarius the Archer

Sagittarius (Urania's Mirror, by Sidney Hall)

Sagittarius the Archer [Urania’s Mirror, by Sidney Hall]

     Sagittarius (Latin for “archer”) is another low-lying (southerly) constellation on the zodiac, lying between Scorpius and Ophiuchus to the west and Capricornus to the east. It’s almost impossible to see right now, as the sun is preparing to move in front of it. (The best time of year to observe Sagittarius is August or September. See our August post for details of viewing this constellation.) 

Sagittarius Astronomy

Sagittarius star map (Universe Today)

Sagittarius star map (Universe Today)

    Sagittarius ranks 15th in size among the 88 modern constellations cataloged by the International Astronomical Union (IAU), occupying 867 square degrees on the dome of the sky. It was also one of the original 48 constellations charted by Ptolemy in the second century. Along with Capricornus and Aquarius, Sagittarius lives in the fourth galactic quadrant of the southern hemisphere (SQ4), and is observable from +55° N latitude all the way to the South Pole. 

Constellation Sagittarius

Constellation Sagittarius

    As seen from the northern hemisphere, the constellation’s brighter stars form an easily recognizable asterism known as ‘the Teapot’. (See the Wikipedia article Sagittarius for details.) 

Sagittarius Teapot

Sagittarius Teapot (Wikipedia)

    Sagittarius can’t be seen in December because this is when this constellation is on the other side of the Sun from us. As we pointed out in our August issue this year, August is the best time to view Sagittarius. In contrast with astrological timing (see Astrological Sign of the Month below), astronomically the sun passes in front of Sagittarius these days from about December 18 to January 20. (refs EarthSky, Universe TodayConstellation Guide, Wikipedia)

Sagittarius History and Mythology

    The Babylonians were first to see Sagittarius as a half-man/half-horse centaur with two heads and wings. The Greeks then modified this figure (eliminating one of the heads), but there is confusion as to its identity. Some identify Sagittarius as the centaur Chiron, who was said to have changed himself into a horse to escape his jealous wife, Rhea. However, Chiron is in fact represented by the constellation Centaurus, the other heavenly centaur. An alternative tradition is that Chiron merely invented the constellation Sagittarius to help in guiding the Argonauts in their quest for the Golden Fleece.

   A competing mythological tradition identified the Archer not as a centaur but as the satyr Crotus, son of Pan, whom Greeks credited with the invention of archery. According to myth, Crotus often went hunting on horseback and lived among the Muses, who requested that Zeus place him in the sky, where he is seen demonstrating archery. The arrow of this constellation points towards the star Antares, the “heart of the scorpion,” and Sagittarius stands poised to attack should Scorpius ever attack the nearby Hercules, or to avenge Scorpius’s slaying of Orion. (ref Wikipedia)

Astrological Sign of the Month: Sagittarius

    Based on the constellation of the same name, Sagittarius is the ninth astrological sign in the zodiac. Under the tropical zodiac, the sun transits the sign of Sagittarius on average from November  22 thru December 22 each year, occupying the span from 240 to 270 degrees in the idealized 360 degree circle. Sagittarius is always depicted as a half-man, half-horse archer, though details often vary.

Sagittarius (Wikipedia)

Sagittarius (Wikipedia)

    According to some astrologies, Sagittarius is a mutable fire sign, considered to be a masculine outgoing sign governing the circulatory system, hips, thighs, and pituitary gland.  As such, Sagittarians are liable to sciatica and rheumatism. They are typically characterized as having “a positive outlook on life, full of enterprise, energy, versatility, adventurousness and eagerness”.  (See and crystalinks for more detail.)

Sagit Symbology

Sagittarius Symbol (UniverseOnSale)

Sagittarius Symbol (UniverseOnSale)

  The symbol (or glyph) for Sagittarius () represents the archer’s arrow. (ref Wikipedia)  [Symbol at left courtesy of UniverseOnSale]


   The zodiac constellation easiest to see right now is Aries the Ram. (See our April issue when we featured this constellation.) Right now you will find Aries at its peak in the sky around 9 pm local time. It will rise about five minutes earlier each night, peaking around 8 pm at the end of this month and 6 pm by late January.

Aries the Ram

Aries the Ram (EarthSky)

Aries in night sky

Aries in night sky (EarthSky)

   Since Aries is another one of those not-so-bright constellations, a dark sky away from city lights is best for viewing. You can find it by first locating the “W” constellation Cassiopeia (sometimes upside-down), then jumping from Polaris (the North Star) to the Great Square of Pegasus. You will find all the details you need at EarthSky’s article on Aries

Cassiopeia star map (EarthSky)

Cassiopeia star map (EarthSky)

Pisces in the Night Sky (EarthSky)

Great Square of Pegasus (EarthSky)

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December Moon

The full moon of December is no summer serenader’s moon,
no sentimental moon of silvery softness to match the rhyming of the ballad singer.
It is a winter’s moon with more than fourteen hours of darkness to rule in cold splendor.
It is not a silvery moon at all.
This is a moon of ice, cold and distant.
But it shimmers the hills where there is a frosting of snow,
and it makes the frozen valleys gleam.
It dances on the dark surface of an up-country pond.
It weaves fantastic patterns on the snow in the woodland.
It is the sharp edge of the night wind,
the silent feather of the great horned owl’s wing,
the death-scream of unwary rabbit when the red fox has made its pounce.
This winter’ moon is a silent companion for the nightwalker,
a deceptive light that challenges the eye.
It dims the huddled hemlocks on the hillside and it sharpens the hilltop horizon.
It wreathes the walker’s head in the shimmer of his own breath,
and it seems to whistle in his footsteps.
It makes wreaths of chimney smoke and sweetens the smell of the hearth fire.
It is the long winter night in cold splendor,
night wrapped in frost, spangled and sequined and remote
as Arcturus.

~Hal Borland (Twelve Moons of The Year)

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     This beautiful watercolor is by Chicago artist Robin Samiljan from her  collection “A Year of Moons“. Prints are available for purchase at Fine Art America.

Thank You, Robin!
We have been most blessed to have been able to showcase Robin Samiljan’s moon paintings over the past year. Check out her other paintings, as well. We all thank you, Robin, and wish you the very best.

  Next month we will begin a new art series. If there is any moon-related artwork you would like to see here, leave a comment with the particulars.

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Molly Hall ~ Molly Hall

Full Moon in Gemini – Long Nights Moon

    Molly Hall is chief astrologer at This month Molly writes about the Full Moon in Gemini on her astrology site in her article: “Long Nights Moon, in which she tells us: “This is a moment for firing synapses that open us to new ways of seeing.” Here are some brief excerpts from this article:

   This Full Moon illuminates the paradoxes in your nature; all viewpoints of a discussion; the changeable nature of reality; (see full article for more . . . ).

   It’s a Good Time to:

  • Soothe your nerves, since anxiety spikes at this Full Moon.
  • Absorb lots of tidbits of information, and distill the essence.
  • Talk to brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.
  • (see full article for more . . . )
Gemini Dreamers (Nicole Hsin-Lan Chiu Astrology)

                     Gemini Dreamers                      (Nicole Hsin-Lan Chiu Astrology)

   Molly has a lot more helpful insight around this full moon. For the complete read, click “Long Nights Moon“. You might also find interesting her article “Season of Lights – A Holiday Forecast for 2014”.  Also visit Molly’s front page for more interesting astrology.

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Emily Trinkaus ~ Emily Trinkaus

Approaching the Gemini Full Moon

   Head priestess at virgo magic, Emily is based in Portland, OR, and works with astrology as a tool for healing, empowerment, personal growth and collective evolution. In addition, she and energy healer Katie Todd run the Full Moon Priestess website where they conduct monthly Full Moon Galactivation teleclasses for women.

Gemini Full Moon (collage by Emily)

Gemini Full Moon [collage by Emily]

   The full title of Emily’s column for this full moon is: The Healing Story that Carries You Through the Dark – Approaching the Gemini Full Moon; it’s definitely worth a look. In it she tells us that this full moon “…opens a door to healing the beliefs and stories that keep us stuck in the illusion of the separate self…” She goes on to say that conditions around this full moon “…reveal[s] thought patterns and mental tapes that undermine our ability to listen to and trust our intuitive guidance, that reinforce seeing ourselves as victims instead of supporting us to envision and create a more positive future.”

   She then continues by quoting Carolyn Myss (one of my all-time favorites) in referring to the sixth chakra as saying, “Trust what you cannot see far more than what you can see.” All so juicy! For the full read – which I highly recommend – click on The Healing Story that Carries You Through the Dark – Approaching the Gemini Full Moon to visit Emily’s page for this moon.

Full moon in Gemini (Sherry Fae)

Full moon in Gemini [Sherry Fae]

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   If you especially like (or dislike) something you see here, or would like to see something in particular covered in a future issue, or you have something interesting about the Earth, Moon, or Stars you would like to share, please leave a comment. I’m always interested in how folks who stop by here are moved/influenced/affected by what they encounter here.

   Until the full moon in January, here’s wishing all of us a month of warmth and sharing good times with loved ones and friends!

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A few detail-oriented folks have inquired about my use (or mis-use) of Initial Caps in words like earth, moon, and sun. In the long run, it doesn’t affect understanding; Whether I write ”the President” or “the president”, you still know who I’m referring to. I write “the Northern Hemisphere”, just as you would (correctly) write “the West Coast”; it’s a proper name, and in English we capitalize proper names.

When it comes to suns and moons it can get confusing. There are billions of suns out there; we have given names to more than 40 million of them, ranging from names given in other languages (e.g., Aldebaran), to less fanciful but more utilitarian names, such as HD 140913. The International Astronomical Union (IAU) has decreed that our sun is the only one without such a proper name, although historically and in poesy it’s been called by quite a few.

Similarly for our moon. We’ve christened all of the other 182 moons in our solar system with names – ours is the only one we call the Moon.

Since we capitalize the names of all the other heavenly bodies (even asteroids and comets, for pity’s sake), I feel we ought to show at least as much respect for the ones most important to us. The IAU agrees.

So does Wikipedia. Their Manual of Style says: “The words sun, earth, moon and solar system are capitalized (as proper names) when used in an astronomical context to refer to a specific celestial body (our Sun, Earth, Moon and Solar System): The Sun is the star at the center of the Solar System; The Moon orbits the Earth. They are not capitalized when used outside an astronomical context (The sky was clear and the sun felt warm), or when used in a general sense (Io is a moon of Jupiter).”

Sometimes it’s a fine line. If I write “by the light of the silvery moon”, I won’t capitalize it, because I’m referring to an image of the celestial body, not the body itself. By contrast, if I write, “the light from the Sun reflects off the surface of the Moon,” I capitalize both, because I’m referring directly to the celestial bodies.

If you inspect the archives of this blog, you will likely see many instances where I departed from this rule. We’ll call these oversights, and eventually I will correct them. Meanwhile, it’s an interesting challenge just to follow it in new writings. Are we having fun, yet?

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The Earth, Moon and Stars blog is published once each Full Moon with (hopefully interesting) facts and lore about our moon and other sky phenomena. My wish is that you will have fun learning a bit more about our one and only natural satellite and how all of us — people, animals, plants, water, even rocks — are affected and connected by her.

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Unless otherwise noted, this blog claims no credit for any images appearing on it. Copyrighted images remain the property of their respective owners; attribution and/or links are provided when known. If there is an image appearing on this blog that belongs to you and you do not wish for it appear here, please leave a comment with your email address and a link to the image in question and it will be promptly removed. Your comment will not be made public.


About aquarianman

Aquarian interested in anything to do with the Earth, our Moon, and anything flying around out there in space.
This entry was posted in Astrology, astronomy, Constellations, moon, Mythology and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to December’s Cold Popping Trees Full Moon

  1. chrissy says:

    from the words of a ARCHER I really enjoyed the information on our beautiful full moon. Thanks Chrissy

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