It promises to give the luster of midday to objects below. And it will undoubtedly spur the old myths about demonic frenzy and moping melancholy. But even if Wednesday's lunar trip across the sky doesn't come close to its hype, it'll be a marvelous night for a moon dance.
Starting at 5:49 p.m. Wednesday, when the moon rises, until 6:46 a.m. Thursday, when it sets, we have an opportunity to see the brightest moon on the first day of winter in decades. For 13 hours, the longest night of the year will coincide with one of the brightest full moons of the century, and the result could be spectacular.
"It will look humongously big on rising, and for about that first hour, it will look gloriously huge," said Jack Horkheimer, executive director of the Miami Space Transit Museum. "When it reaches its highest point directly overhead near midnight, it will be like a huge overhead spotlight and will illuminate the landscape."
Reasons for all the celestial anticipation are simply scientific.
First, Wednesday is the winter solstice, the first day of winter and the shortest day of the year. Second, we have a full moon on that day, which happens only once every 19 years. And third, the moon will be at perigee, closer to Earth than at any time during the year, which naturally makes it brighter.
This confluence of events is unusual. Scholars say the last time a full moon perigee and solstice overlapped within 24 hours was on Dec. 20 and 21, 1866.
Yet "most people won't be able to tell the difference," said James Randi, South Florida's resident professional skeptic. "It could be a tiny bit brighter, and if you had the sophisticated devices to measure that brightness, you might prove it."
Randi, who makes a living debunking ancient myths and modern-day hype, has no doubt that the full moon will rise Wednesday. And he is equally sure that folks will give an undue importance to the event.
"People will try to find some kind of significance to the event," Randi said. "There's always speculation about increased police calls, the increase of births, the lunacy factor. But all of that has been tested, and every time it is tested, we find out it just ain't so."