The last Supermoon of 2020 arrives this week; it should be visible from Tuesday through Friday, weather permitting. This full “super” moon peaks at 6:45 am ET, but will appear full for about three days around this time, appearing a bit larger and brighter than it usually does throughout the year.
“The supermoons are a great opportunity for people to start looking at the Moon, not just that once but every chance they have!” says Noah Petro, a research scientist from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.
This Supermoon is also known as the “Milk Moon”, the “Flower Moon”, and the “Corn Planting Moon” by some.
Apogee and Perigee
The moon’s orbit around Earth is far from a perfect circle. The 27 day voyage of Earth’s satellite is actually an elliptical orbit with an ever changing distance. The casual observer will notice the phases of the moon as it makes this orbit but the more subtle change, and also noticeable, is the slight change in distance as well. During the course of any given month the distance between the Earth and the moon will vary by close to 30,000 miles. The farthest point is called apogee, the moon being a distant 252,712 miles from Earth. Perigee is the closest point with that distance shrinking to 221,519 miles. A full moon at perigee will appear a bit larger and much brighter than a full moon at apogee.
This Year’s Supermoon
If you miss this Supermoon, you’ll need to wait a while for the next one; the next Supermoon arrives on Monday, April 26, 2021.
The supermoon classification is a term that was coined by astrologer Richard Nolle in 1979. Nolle used the supermoon term to describe a new or full moon that occurs when the moon is in the top 10% of it’s closest distance to Earth. There was never a reason given why the 10% value was chosen and the term “supermoon” is not recognized in the astronomical community, but has certainly taken hold with the general population and media reports. Given that every 27 days there is a full and new moon along with perigee and apogee point the supermoon is not that uncommon.
There will also be some unwanted effects of the full moon/perigee combination. The ebb and flow of the tides is a direct result of the moon’s gravitational pull on the Earth’s waters. During a new and full moon this force is not competing with the Sun’s smaller gravitational pull and can lead to higher than normal tides. These tides occur typically twice a month and are never really noticed by anyone. This gravitational force however can change and is directly related to the distance between two objects, shorten that distance and that force will increase. So when you have a regular tide along with a supermoon then you may be in for minor flooding on or near each high tide.
The best time to really appreciate the supermoon will be as the moon is close the the horizon and will appear larger due to the moon illusion phenomenon.
See how one photographer captures the moon in stunning pictures around New York City here: Photographer Wows with NYC Imagery