Sunday’s Supermoon sweetens August skies

Tomorrow night August 10 we’ll witness the closest full moon of the year. Credit: Bob King

OK, it’s not the Super Bowl exactly. No, this is better. Tickets are free, there’s plenty of parking and you can watch all night commercial-free. Yes, it’s time for the supermoon!

Tomorrow night, the Full Sturgeon Moon occurs at the same time the moon is closest to the Earth or as astronomers like to say, at perigee. The moon passes through perigee and its distant counterpart, apogee, once every 27.3 days, the time it takes the moon to orbit once around the Earth.

Sometimes perigee happens at first quarter moon or crescent phases and no one pays any attention. But when it occurs at full moon, we sit up and notice.

A sexy new term has even been coined in the past 30 years to describe the perigean full moon. Supermoon.

The moon’s orbit around Earth is an ellipse with one end closer to the planet (perigee) and the other farther (apogee). The year’s most distant lunar apogee happened two weeks ago; its closest perigee takes place during tomorrow night’s supermoon. Credit: Bob King

It’s hard not to be seduced by a big bright ball of pure bling. What’s more, the full moon rises at sunset and remains out all night unlike those skittish crescent moons that quickly hide behind trees and set. Its brilliance lights the otherwise dark road at night and adds an ethereal dimension to drabbest of landscapes.

July’s full moon as well as September’s will occur around the time of perigee, but tomorrow night’s will nearly coincide, making it the closest full moon of 2014.

Tom Ruen created this wonderful illustration showing the three supermoons of July, August and September compared to the ‘submoons’ or distant full moons coming up in 2015. You can easily see the difference in moon size comparing the top row to the bottom. The numbers give the moon’s diameter in arc minutes. 30 ‘minutes’ equals 1/2 degree. Credit: Tom Ruen

How close?  221,764 miles (356,896 km). That’s compared to an average distance of 238,855 miles, so the moon will be a smidge more than 17,000 miles closer to your doorstep than normal. Not only will it appear slightly brighter but 7% larger. Unfortunately, the difference, though real, will be nearly impossible to discern because we have no way to compare simultaneous side-by-side near and far full moons. Only after the fact, say by taking a picture of a distant full moon and placing it alongside a photo of a close one, could you tell.

Lots of us connect the dark spots or lunar ‘seas’ to make the face of the ‘man in the moon’ but how many have seen the rabbit? The ears form the strip over the top, the bright crater Aristarchus is the rabbit’s eye, there are two sets of legs and even a tail. Credit: Luc Viatour

2014′s most distant or apogean moon occurred just two weeks ago on July 27. No surprise given that the closest moon should naturally happen on the opposite end of the moon’s orbit or about two weeks later. The super thin crescent on that date was 252,629 miles (406,568 km) from Earth or nearly 31,000 miles farther than tomorrow night’s full moon – a difference of 13%.

Enough with numbers. They’re only a backdrop for the real show. Go out and enjoy a moonrise tonight and tomorrow night.  Not sure when the moon comes up? Head over to timeanddate.com and type in or search for your city. Since the moment of full moon happens early Sunday afternoon for U.S. and Canadian locations, tonight’s moon will be nearly as full.

I walked a mile in the moonlight last night and hope to do it again tonight. Is there a better month for moonwalking than August?

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About astrobob

My name is Bob King and I work at the Duluth News Tribune in Duluth, Minn. as a photographer and photo editor. I'm also an amateur astronomer and have been keen on the sky since age 11. My modest credentials include membership in the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) where I'm a regular contributor, International Meteorite Collectors Assn. and Arrowhead Astronomical Society. I also teach community education astronomy classes at our local planetarium.

5 thoughts on “Sunday’s Supermoon sweetens August skies

  1. I’ll be out to night as there’s a full moon arising. If I had a lasso I would rope the moon and pull it closer to the earth. Brucealmighty.

    • Hi Bruce,
      And before Bruce there was Jimmy Stewart in “It’s a Wonderful Life”! I just saw that movie on TV recently with one of my daughters. We watched it when it first came out too, and it’s still pretty funny.

  2. Hey Bob,

    I do see the lunar sea rabbit but also a moon squirrel going in the opposite direction. The rabbit’s head and ears are the squirrel’s rump and tail arched over his back. Don’t know what the “cottontail” is–maybe a walnut about to drop on the squirrel’s head? The APOD for today shows a Persied from above. It made me think that the large area of the solar panels on the ISS should take a meteoroid hit occasionally. Any record of that? Happy Supermoon!

    Norman Sanker

    • Hi Norman,
      I see the squirrel. Cool. And the falling nut’s a good match to an acorn. The solar arrays have been pierced at least once (last April) by either a meteoroid or man-made debris. Hard to know exactly which.

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