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It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Super Moon!

May 4th, 2012
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2011's Super Moon. Photo Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

by HTE Space Writer Jason Kendall

Look! Up in the sky!  It’s Super Moon!

Well, the news is all abuzz about a Super Moon tomorrow night — Saturday, May 5th — when the moon will be full and will look way bigger than normal.  What’s the big deal? Because two things will match up that don’t match up very often:

First, the Moon will be the closest it’ll be to Earth in all of 2012. The nearness of the Moon’s orbit, or perigee, happens about once a year. The size of the moon doesn’t change, of course, but it’ll look bigger because it’s closer.

Image credit: Science@NASA

And, second, it’s a Full Moon.  A Full Moon is a phase of the Moon when you see it as a perfect circle. This happens about once a month. To do an experiment with the Moon’s phases, click here .

So, when these two things happen at the same time, we call it a Super Moon, And it will be the “biggest” Full moon of 2012.

How does it get that way?  Well, first, it’s a good time to understand how and why the Moon changes in the sky.

Let’s play a game.  If you take a ball at the end of a rope and swing it fast above you in a circle, the ball will orbit your head!  Now imagine that you’re the Earth, and the ball is the Moon.  Since your arm can’t extend as easily behind you as in front of you, the ball-as-Moon is probably farther away from your head when the ball is in front of you than when it is behind you.  Try it, and you’ll see!  The real Moon’s orbit is like this too. Sometimes it’s closer to the Earth and sometimes it’s farther, depending on where it is in its elliptical-shaped orbit.

Full moons are fun to look at through a telescope, whether they are super or not, because you can see lots of craters and mountains and rays, but if you can, try to go out and see this super sight on Saturday night!

Jason Kendall is a NYC NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador, teaches astronomy at William Paterson University, writes about Space for HTE, and just totally gets Space! Have questions for Jason? He’ll answer them. Thanks, Jason!

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26 Comments on “It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Super Moon!”

  • Kari Steeves says:

    Where and when will it rise?

    • Jason Kendall says:

      Since it is a Full Moon, it will rise at exactly sunset, no matter where you are. Depending on if you have tall buildings or trees around you, it might take some time to see it come up. But, if you are lucky enough to be out on the ocean, or in the Great Plains, you’ll actually be able to watch MoonRise just like a sunrise or sunset. So, put your back to the setting Sun, and look directly opposite the Sun in the sky.

      Take out your binoculars, because it’s always a good view. The full moon is always great to look for crater rays. Rays appear to be lines that point out like bicycle spokes from the crater. The rays are sprayed material from a major impact.

      If you look at crater Tycho, the brightest crater near the southern pole of the Moon. That crater was formed about 108 million years ago. The asteroid that made that 50-mile-wide crater is presumed to be an older brother to the asteroid that hit the Earth 40 million years later and killed off the dinosaurs.

      So, when you go out with those binocs, imagine that some dinosaurs watched that crater form. They saw an enormous shower of sparks and a bright explosion. The Moon would have had a cloud of dust around it, and the rays would have looked like fireworks, but careening across the Moon’s surface.

      To see a REALLY COOL movie about how the Moon was formed, including big impacts and craters, check this out: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/LRO/news/vid-tour.html

  • Matthew says:

    I gonna see the supa moon tonight! Its gonna be awesome! :3

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