Witness the First Major Lunar Standstill in Over 18 Years: Here’s How to See It

By Lydia Amazouz Published on June 17, 2024 10:00
Witness The First Major Lunar Standstill In Over 18 Years Here's How To See It

Skywatchers are in for a treat as the first "major lunar standstill" in more than 18 years is set to grace our night skies.

This celestial event occurs when the moon rises and sets at its most extreme northerly and southerly positions on the horizon, reaching its highest and lowest points in the 18.6-year lunar cycle. The last major lunar standstill was seen in 2006, making this a rare and significant event for astronomy enthusiasts.

Understanding the Major Lunar Standstill

The phenomenon of a major lunar standstill, also known as lunistice, happens when the tilts of both the Earth and the moon are at their maximum. During this period, the moon rises at its very highest northeasterly point and sets at its very highest northwesterly point.

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Lunar Standstill

Conversely, it also rises at its most southeasterly point and sets at its most southwesterly point. This extreme positioning occurs because the moon's orbit is tilted by 5.1 degrees relative to the ecliptic, the plane in which the Earth orbits the sun. This tilt allows the moon to rise and set within a 57-degree range in any given month, significantly broader than the sun's 47-degree range over a year due to Earth's 23.4-degree axial tilt.

Historical and Cultural Significance

Historically, major lunar standstills have been significant events, with ancient structures like Stonehenge, Callanish, and Newgrange aligned to moonrise and moonset points during these periods.

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These alignments suggest that ancient cultures observed and celebrated these lunar events, indicating their importance in historical astronomy and cultural practices.

The alignment of these structures with the moon's extreme positions underscores the sophistication of ancient astronomical knowledge and its integration into cultural and religious practices.

Best Times and Methods to Observe

The upcoming major lunar standstill will be at its most extreme around the equinoxes in September 2024 and March 2025. Visibility of this event will depend on the moon's phase, your location, and weather conditions. The best chances to see the effects are during full moons when the lunar standstill is most prominent. Here is a list of upcoming full moons:

  • June 21, 2024
  • July 21, 2024
  • August 19, 2024
  • September 17, 2024
  • October 17, 2024
  • November 15, 2024
  • December 15, 2024
  • January 13, 2025
  • February 12, 2025
  • March 14, 2025
  • April 12, 2025
  • May 12, 2025
  • June 11, 2025
  • July 10, 2025
  • August 9, 2025
  • September 7, 2025
  • October 6, 2025
  • November 4, 2025
  • December 4, 2025
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The best times to observe are when the moon rises and the sun sets, and vice versa, particularly during these full moons. A pair of stargazing binoculars or a good backyard telescope can enhance the viewing experience, but the phenomenon can also be appreciated with the naked eye.

During the standstill, the moon's path across the sky will be noticeably different from its usual trajectory. It will climb higher and stay in the sky longer when rising in the farthest northeastern point in the Northern Hemisphere, making it a spectacular sight. Observers can track the moon's movement over several nights to see the variation in its rising and setting points, providing a deeper appreciation for this rare astronomical event.

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Tips for Optimal Viewing

To fully enjoy the major lunar standstill, choose a location with a clear view of the horizon, away from city lights that can obscure the sky. Coastal areas or elevated spots are ideal as they offer unobstructed views of the horizon. Checking weather forecasts in advance is crucial to ensure clear skies. Additionally, keeping a lunar calendar handy can help in tracking the moon's phases and planning the best times for observation.

Photography enthusiasts can capture the event using long-exposure techniques to highlight the moon's path across the sky. This can create stunning images that showcase the unique positions of the moon during the standstill. Sharing these images on social media platforms can also help raise awareness and interest in this rare celestial event.

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An editor specializing in astronomy and space industry, passionate about uncovering the mysteries of the universe and the technological advances that propel space exploration.

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