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The next Full Moon is the night of August 1–2. It’s also another “Supermoon.” Does it feel like there a lot of supermoons these days? It gets a little absurd. Bob Berman tells us what we’ll truly see in the night sky (and what we won’t)!
When the Moon’s Nearest to Earth
So what’s the deal with Supermoons? Let’s start with the basics.
When folks refer to the Supermoon, they’re referring to the Full Moon and its distance from us. The Moon’s path around Earth is elliptical, not round, so each month it arrives at its nearest point to us on some particular night.
“Supermoon” is not an astronomical term. Astronomer’s call this point in the Moon’s orbit when it’s nearest to Earth the “perigee” so it’s a “perigean full Moon.” (“Apogee” is the point when it’s furthest from Earth.) Admittedly, “Supermoon” is a little catchier than “perigee” and kind of says what is is—a larger-than-normal Moon.
On top of that, the Moon’s orbit gets more squashed or flattened and then returns to a rounder shape. During months when it’s unusually flattened, the Moon can come closer than usual. So, some Supermoons are nearer than others.
Is the Supermoon Bigger?
Here’s where the hype starts. Technically, the disk size of a Supermoon exceeds that of an average-sized moon by up to 8%. And a Supermoon can be up to 14% bigger than a “Micromoon” (the catchy term referring to the point when the Moon is at apogee or the farthest distance from Earth, so the smallest Moon).
However, it’s highly doubtful that any casual observer can tell that a Supermoon is noticeably bigger, since we can’t exactly compare Moons in the dark sky at the same time.
At its closest, it still looks the same as your normal, average Moon. That’s why astronomers never pay attention to its occasional closer-than-normal visits.
Is a Supermoon Brighter?
Yes, supermoons often do look brighter than ordinary full Moons since they exceed brightness of an average-sized full moon by some 16%. And then, it exceeds the brightness of a Micromoon by some 30%. As long as you’re enjoying dark, cloudless skies, it’s worth looking up!
But if you see photos of the Moon appearing larger than life, and exaggerated in appearance, you can bet that photo’s been doctored in some way.
More Media Hype
And here’s where things have gotten even weirder. A few years ago, media writers didn’t merely call the year’s closest Moon a Supermoon, but started applying that label to the nights when the year’s second, third, or fourth closest Moon would appear, even though they all merely seemed visually ordinary.
Well, last month as we approached 4th of July celebrations, many in the mass media urged people to watch the Full Moon that night, adding that it would be a Supermoon. The truth? It was the year’s fourth closest Moon. It’s basically average distance! Obviously, the whole Supermoon business has gotten out of hand.
The August 1 Supermoon and Saturn
Which brings us to the upcoming full Moon on August 1. This will be the year’s third nearest Moon, so will this get everyone labeling it as another Supermoon? Count on it.
But do look up and enjoy the beauty of our only satellite. And do look its way the very next night, August 2, when the Moon will rise just after nightfall. See your local moonrise times.
It’s worth a look because the bright “star” next to it will be the planet Saturn! Saturn is at its closest and brightest of the entire year in the month of August, even though it never gets super-brilliant like Jupiter or Venus. So the Ringed Planet is not always easy for beginners to find.
But on August 2 the Moon will act like a trail guide and point our eyes to it. In terms of being our helpful friend, that night’s Moon will indeed be super.
Once in a Blue Moon
Coming up: August brings TWO full Moons. The second Full Moon (on August 31) is truly the NEAREST Supermoon of the year. The Old Farmer’s Almanac traditionally calls the August Moon a “Sturgeon Moon” and calls the second full Moon a “Blue Moon.” Learn more on their complete August Moon page.