A Supermoon? Or, an Imposter?
This Sunday, October 16, 2016, is the full Moon (or Saturday, depending on your time zone). And some media outlets are calling it a “Supermoon.” This has gotten out of hand.
First, in astronomy there is no such term as “Supermoon.” It has no actual scientific definition. But a few years ago some in the media were starting to use the word Supermoon for any full Moon that was unusually close to us.
This was logical. The Moon’s orbit is not circular but elliptical and it even changes shape. So sometimes the Moon comes up to 8% closer to us than average.
A few years ago, the label was only applied to an extraordinarily close Moon, the kind that happens once every few years. Then some in the media started calling every year’s closest full Moon a Supermoon. And it quickly got worse. Starting in 2014, some called the closest four Moons of the year Supermoons.
That’s what’s happening on Sunday. Some Web sites it’s a Supermoon even though this is only the third closest full Moon of the year. And it’s not even particularly close. The announcement is especially inappropriate because, if you’re going to use the popular term Supermoon, it’s happening next month.
The next full Moon, on Sunday night November 13 and into Monday, will be the closest Moon since 1948. Get ready for an extraordinary “Supermoon” on November 14, when the Moon comes the closest it has been to Earth. For most people, it will be the largest and brightest full moon of their lives. Now that’s a Super Moon!
Tides will be unusually strong and media attention will go through the roof and deservedly so. But you wanna know the truth? Even that Moon will only be 8% larger than the average full Moon, and it will be very hard to see any difference when you look up. If you hold up an aspirin tablet against the sky at arms length, that tablet looks quite small. But it’s still almost twice the size of the Supermoon. Try it!
This revelation of the true surprisingly diminutive size of the Moon in our sky may be so disconcerting, you may need to swallow that pill.
Live! October Full Moon Show
Watch the October Full Moon show this Saturday, October 15! We’ll chat more about this topic, and you’ll enjoy a live telescope feed for close-up views of the Full Hunter Moon! Click here to learn more about the October Moon show.
About This Blog
Welcome to “This Week’s Amazing Sky,” the Almanac’s hub for everything stargazing and astronomy. Bob Berman, longtime and famous astronomer for The Old Farmer’s Almanac, will help bring alive the wonders of our universe. From the beautiful stars and planets to magical auroras and eclipses, he covers everything under the Sun (and Moon)! Bob, the world’s mostly widely read astronomer, also has a new weekly podcast, Astounding Universe!