A supermoon is an awe-inspiring celestial spectacle that captivates stargazers and casual observers alike. It occurs when the full moon coincides with the moon’s closest approach to Earth, known as the perigee. This extraordinary event results in a visually striking and larger-than-average appearance of the moon in the night sky.
The term “supermoon” was actually coined by an astrologer named Richard Nolle. He introduced it in a magazine article back in 1979. Nolle used “supermoon” to describe a full moon that appears bigger and brighter in the sky. This happens when the moon is closest to Earth in its orbit. It’s important to mention that Nolle’s idea is more rooted in astrology than hard science, but over time, “supermoon” caught on and became a fun way for people to talk about and appreciate these stunning lunar events.
When does a supermoon occur?
The moon’s elliptical orbit around the Earth is the primary factor contributing to the supermoon phenomenon. The moon’s orbit is not a perfect circle; instead, it follows an elongated path, bringing it closer and farther away from our planet during different phases of its cycle. When the full moon coincides with the perigee, its closest distance to Earth, it appears up to 14% larger and 30% brighter than during its apogee, the farthest point in its orbit.
During a supermoon, the moon’s enhanced proximity makes it a captivating sight, and its silvery glow casts an enchanting light upon the Earth’s landscapes. The moonrise and moonset times are remarkable, as the moon appears more prominent when it’s closer to the horizon due to the “moon illusion.” This optical illusion occurs because the human brain perceives the moon as more substantial when placed against familiar objects in the foreground, such as buildings or trees.
Best time to observe a supermoon
For astronomy enthusiasts, astrophotographers, and those seeking to witness the grandeur of the night sky, the best time to observe a supermoon is during the moonrise or moonset. At these moments, the moon emerges on the horizon, seemingly larger than life, creating a breathtaking and captivating scene. It is essential to consult a moonrise/moonset calendar for your specific location to ensure you don’t miss this marvellous event.
While supermoons are indeed a celestial treat, they are not rare occurrences. On average, there are four to six supermoons each year, with variations in size and brightness. Despite this, the allure of witnessing a supermoon remains undiminished, as it provides an opportunity to connect with the cosmos and marvel at the celestial wonders beyond our planet.
Supermoons in 2023
There are four supermoons in 2023: July 3, 2023 (peak at 7:39 a.m. EDT); August 1, 2023 (peak at 2:32 p.m. EDT), August 30, 2023 (peak at 9:36 p.m. EDT) and September 29, 2023 (peak at 5:38 a.m. EDT).
A supermoon is a fascinating celestial phenomenon that arises from the moon’s elliptical orbit and its closest proximity to Earth during the full moon phase. The best time to witness this awe-inspiring event is during moonrise or moonset when the moon appears most magnificent against the backdrop of the horizon. Embrace the chance to experience the magic of a supermoon and revel in the wonder of our celestial neighbourhood.