Look up early next week, and you will see the full moon at its closest in a generation.
A so-called “supermoon” will make its nearest possible approach to Earth at 6:27 a.m. EDT on Monday. Our lunar neighbor has not swung by this close since January 1948, according to NASA.
A “supermoon” occurs when the moon’s elliptical orbit reaches its shorter end — a spot called the perigee — while also aligning with the sun and Earth. Astrologer Richard Nolle coined the term in 1979 to describe the moon at 90 percent of its closest approach to Earth. But the scientific community calls the phenomenon “perigee syzygy.”
Compared to a full moon at its furthest point — its apogee — the “supermoon” will appear about 14 percent larger and 30 percent brighter, depending on the amount of light pollution in your area.
“This [supermoon] is more a technicality than an intense scientific interest,” MIT planetary scientist Richard Binzel said. “But anything that gets people interested to look up and notice the night sky and ponder the universe is a good thing.”
Astrophysicists track the moon’s orbit with remarkable precision, using lasers that reflect off its surface to measure its position down to a centimeter accuracy. They can also predict where the moon will be during its orbit for the next 10,000 years.
On average, the moon is approximately 240,000 miles away from the earth. At its furthest full moon in the last 300 years, the moon was 252,688 miles away. At its closest in the same time frame, it was 221,441 miles from the Earth, NASA stated.
Even though the upcoming supermoon will be physically closest at 6:27 a.m. EDT, it will appear biggest to the human eye when it is low on the horizon, after sunrise and after sunset. At those times, its appearance will also be marked by a red-orange hue because of reflecting light from the sun.
Jupiter’s supersized gravity also influences our moon’s course through space, and this weekend’s mega display. That’s why Ohio State University astrophysicist Paul Sutter is particularly excited.
“There’s almost a dance happening,” he said about the interplanetary movements.
The moon will not be this close to Earth again until 2034.