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If you think this weekend’s full moon looks larger in the sky than usual, you’re not a lunatic… it IS larger in the sky! 14% larger, to be exact. Why?
This Saturday night, May 5, 2012, will bring yet another “Supermoon” to our night sky. As the Moon reaches its full phase, at 11:35 p.m. EDT, it will also be at perigee — the closest point in its elliptical orbit around the Earth. While full moons happen every month and perigee happens regularly as well, they don’t always happen exactly at the same time. This Saturday night they will occur literally within a minute of each other, resulting in a brighter, if not “fuller”, Moon.
Of course, 14% isn’t a huge increase — you may not really even be able to tell the difference. But if you do, it’s not your imagination. The Moon actually is closer, if only by a “mere” 50,000 km (31,000 miles). The effect?
Well, not much, really. Other than generating conversation and a few centimeter increase in tides, the event itself will come and go with no physical effects. Supermoons happen about once a year on average, and last March brought a perigee full Moon that was 400 km closer than this upcoming one will be.
But if it gets more people to go outside to look up at the night sky, and ponder our lovely satellite (and don’t forget to look for bright Venus and the orange-red Mars too!) and maybe think about our place in the cosmos, then I’d say it’s a “super” event indeed!
Update: here’s a photo of Saturday’s moon. A little hazy in the sky but it was looking nice!