Have you seen the media urging everyone to rush out and see the Supermoon? So, what is a Supermoon?
Did you then expect that full Supermoon to look super huge?
Well, enough is enough!
The “Supermoon” media hype has gotten out of hand! We understand the shorthand and agree it’s catchy—and anything that encourages us to explore the night sky is positive—but also let’s get our facts right.
That expression did not even exist until someone concocted it recently.
- First, it was applied to the closest Moon of the year.
- Then it started to mean the closest two or three Moons each year.
- More recently,I saw an article quoting, ”4 to 6 supermoons each year.” It was accompanied by a photo of a giant red Moon; they were obviously confused between a totally eclipsed Moon and a merely close Moon. AND they explained that a supermoon “looks 14% larger than normal.”
No, no, and no. Let’s put this to rest. This will also explain why we don’t use the term “Supermoon” in our astronomy pages in the annual Old Farmer’s Almanac.
The Facts About the So-Called Supermoon
A Supermoon is what we call a “perigee full Moon.” The word “perigee” refers to the Moon’s closest point to Earth in its monthly orbit.
The Moon has an oval or elliptical orbit, not a round one, which means that every night it’s either a bit closer or farther than it was the night before.
- At its closest extreme, the Moon can be 14% closer and thus look 14% larger than at its farthest yearly extreme.
- Put another way, it varies 7% from its average size. Here’s the key fact: Nobody can perceive a 7% difference in the Moon’s size.
And if you could somehow place the year’s biggest possible Moon next to the smallest one in the sky, you’d just barely tell the difference. And that’s with the absolute extreme Moons.
Bottom line. The so-called Supermoon never looks particularly big. There’s barely any difference at all between the Moon’s size from one month to the next, or one night to the next. It’s hype.
How to see a Huge Moon
But if you want to see a huge-LOOKING moon, it’s easy …
Simply watch the moon when it’s rising or setting.
A moon down near the horizon will always look enormous, thanks to the well-known Moon illusion, which makes our minds exaggerate the size of objects near the skyline.
Try it! If you want a Supermoon, you can have it—any night.