Maybe because it’s been clear where I live for the past week, the moon’s been putting on a show like none other. We’ve been able to watch it wax from crescent through gibbous phases as on its way to tonight’s grand supermoon finale. Last night, the moon was so bright and so high, it felt like an egg of light cracking over my head. Tonight, the moon will rise within minutes of sundown and stay up all night. If you get to see it moonrise, you’ll see it again just before it sets tomorrow morning if you’re an early riser. Look to the northeast tonight for moonrise and the northwest for moonset.
Because the moon rises very close to sunset, it will appear pale at rise time in a relatively bright sky. I know you’ll be taking pictures of moonrise just like I will, so here’s the good news. Any camera will do, even mobile phones, especially early on when the light of the moon balances with the remaining daylight. Shoot within 15 minutes of moonrise. That way you’ll still capture features on the moon’s face and the landscape at the same time. Once the moon starts looking bright to your eye, your camera will show it as a featureless disk of bright light if you expose to capture both the moon and a scene.
Since you’ll be out soaking up moonlight anyway, use the opportunity to familiarize yourself with a few other cosmic gems dotting the sky. A bright moon wipes away faint stars but won’t touch the bright ones. The map shows the brightest, easiest things with two challenges: Saturn and the star Arcturus, which are very low above the horizon in mid-twilight.
But don’t worry the faint stuff. In the opposite corner of the sky from the full moon, you’ll easily see the brilliant planet Venus low in the southwest. What a spark of pure light it is! Mars is farther up and due south. Although considerably fainter, the planet’s ruddy color makes it easy to spot. Higher up, look for the Summer Triangle, a huge figure almost four outstretched fists tall. Three fists to its left (east) lies the Great Square of Pegasus.
If you now pivot to face east, the star Capella will catch your eye. Because it’s low in the sky and more affected by atmospheric turbulence than say Vega in the Summer Triangle, you’ll probably see it twinkling like a sparkler.
For more supermoon details see my earlier blog. If you live in the Duluth, Minn. area, I’d like to invite you to join me and members of the Arrowhead Astronomical Society to watch and cheer on the rising of the supermoon this evening. We’ll have our telescopes set up in Canal Park near Crabby Bill’s by the Lakewalk starting about 4 p.m. See you there!
*** If you’d like to learn more about the moon, I’ve got it all in my new book, Night Sky with the Naked Eye, that just published this week. Just click one of the photos below to go to the site of your choice — Amazon, Barnes & Noble or Indiebound. The book is also available locally at Barnes & Noble in Duluth (and at many BNs) and The Bookstore at Fitger’s.