Entries in Supermoon (2)


'Supermoon': Large Full Moon to Shine This Weekend

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Saturday night, if the full moon rising in the East, strikes you as unusually large, you'll be right. It will loom larger than usual. Though it's hardly a scientific term, it will be what's known as a "supermoon."

If the weather is clear where you are, it should be a sight to see. It happens because—despite what our senses usually tell us—the moon does not orbit us in a perfect circle. It follows a slightly elliptical path every month. On Saturday night at 11:35 p.m. ET, say astronomers, it will come within 221,802 miles of us—coincidentally about one minute before it's at its fullest. Two weeks later, on the opposite side of its orbit, it will be about 252,000 miles away.

The result: When the moon is closest to Earth, it appears 14 percent larger and 30 percent brighter than when it's farthest from us.

"The full Moon has a reputation for trouble," wrote Tony Phillips, an astronomer who maintains NASA's Science News site. "It raises high tides, it makes dogs howl, it wakes you up in the middle of the night with beams of moonlight stealing through drapes.

"If a moonbeam wakes you up on the night of May 5th," he added, "You might want to get out of bed and take a look."

But is there really anything "super" about it, beyond the spectacle? Astronomers say emphatically not. It may increase high tides in places by a few inches, but that's about it.

For all the folklore about full moons and mental illness ("lunacy"), social scientists have searched in vain for correlations between the moon and crime rates or admissions to psychiatric institutions.

So if the weather cooperates, look outside and bask in the moonlight. Many people say the best time to look is early evening, just as the moon is coming up over the horizon. You'll see the moon, pumpkin-colored, slowly rising in the East—and, boy, will it look large.

It is, in fact, no larger in the sky than when it's overhead, but our minds fool us, perhaps because we have a reference point—something on the horizon—that we lack when it is high among the stars.

"For instance," said Phillips in an email, "When you see the moon in close proximity to a tree, your brain will miscalculate the distance to the moon, mentally bringing it closer (like the tree) and thus making it bigger. It seems so real, but this beautiful illusion is all in our minds."

Two weeks from now, on the afternoon of May 20, the moon will be in its new phase, passing between Earth and the sun.

The result will be a solar eclipse—one that will be visible in a strip of the Western United States, stretching southeastward from the Oregon-California border to Lubbock, Texas.

It should be a spectacular sight, visible from Reno, Albuquerque, Zion National Park and parts of the Grand Canyon—but it won't be the kind of eclipse you most often see pictured.

On May 20, it will seem 14 percent smaller—in other words, not quite enough to block the sun.

The result will be what's known as an annular eclipse. A blindingly-bright ring of sun ("ring" in Latin is "annulus") will surround the black disc of the moon.

Still worth a trip if you're inclined, but a bit less "super" than other such sights.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Biggest Full Moon Possible Will Be Visible Next Week

Comstock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Get ready for a close encounter with the moon.

Next week, on March 19, the moon won't just be at its closest approach to Earth in its elliptical orbit, but enthusiasts say it will be closer to Earth than it's been in 18 years.

The moon's orbit around us is slightly elliptical, and when the moon is at the near point it is known as a lunar perigee.  But on the Internet, astronomy and astrology fans are calling this upcoming lunar event a "supermoon."

For the past few days, they've not only been buzzing about the mega moon, but the meteorological mayhem they expect it to cause.  But no need to grab your survival kit just yet -- scientists say it just isn't so.

In a blog post earlier this month, AccuWeather blogger Mark Paquette said a new or full moon at 90 percent or more of its closest perigee qualifies as a "supermoon."  Next weekend's full moon won't just be a supermoon but an extreme supermoon, he said, because the moon will be almost precisely at its closest distance to Earth.

According to "new age" forecasts, he said, the supermoon is expected to bring strong earthquakes, storms or unusual climate patterns.

"There were supermoons in 1955, 1974, 1992 and 2005.  These years had their share of extreme weather and other natural events.  Is the Super Moon and these natural occurrences a coincidence?" he wrote.  "Some would say yes; some would say no.  I'm not here to pick sides and say I'm a believer or non-believer in subjects like this, but as a scientist I know enough to ask questions and try to find answers."

Paquette told ABCNews that he wants to remain "neutral" on the topic but said, "I do think it's possible that it could bring earthquakes, volcanic eruptions or anything weather-related as well."

But NASA astronomer Dave Williams said there's no reason to believe that anything out of the ordinary -- aside from an especially big and bright full moon -- will take place next week.

"There's nothing really special about this," he said.

For starters, although the moon will be closer than it's been for 18 or 19 years, it will only be one or two percent closer.

"It's nothing you could notice unless you made really accurate measurements," he said.  "It's a few thousand miles closer, but as far as the moon's orbit is considered, that's nothing."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio