NASA researcher talks about the moon ahead of Dark Sky Festival presentations
Photo by Kym MacKinnon on Unsplash

NASA researcher talks about the moon ahead of Dark Sky Festival presentations

December’s full moon, also known as the “cold moon,” lit up Cook County, Lake Superior and the Boundary Waters last night (Dec. 7) on a clear, cool night in northeastern Minnesota.

The timing for clear skies were ideal, as a rare event known as a lunar occultation of Mars unfolded around 9 p.m. An easy way to describe it is that the moon blocked out the red planet for about an hour.

Coincidentally, Dec. 7 also marked the 50th anniversary of NASA’s Apollo 17 mission launch – the last time humans set foot on the moon.

The moon has been in the news a great deal this week, as NASA’s Orion capsule and its test dummies swooped one last time around the moon Monday (Dec. 5), flying over a couple Apollo landing sites before heading home.

Orion will aim for a Pacific splashdown Sunday near San Diego, setting the stage for astronauts on the next flight in a couple years.

The capsule passed within 80 miles of the far side of the moon, using the lunar gravity as a slingshot for the 237,000-mile ride back to Earth. It spent a week in a wide, sweeping lunar orbit, the Associated Press reports.

Once emerging from behind the moon and regaining communication with flight controllers in Houston, Orion beamed back photos of a close-up moon and a crescent Earth — Earthrise — in the distance.

As the nation processes all of the news about the moon, the dark skies are being celebrated this weekend in Cook County. An event tonight (Dec. 8) at Gunflint Lodge starting at 7 p.m. features Andrea Jones, a planetary geologist and the public engagement lead of the solar system exploration division at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, will share one example of how NASA is getting ready to return to the moon. Jones will describe a field campaign in which she joined NASA scientists and astronauts in Iceland to better understand the environments astronauts will explore on the moon and Mars, look for potentially usable resources there (especially water), and determine what equipment and training our astronauts will need to stay safe and conduct scientific investigations on these other worlds.

WTIP’s Joe Friedrichs spoke with Jones Dec. 8 to learn more about her work with NASA and involvement with the local Dark Sky Festival. Audio below.

Click here for a full list of the Dark Sky Festival schedule.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.