November’s Supermoon

Kasia Krzyzanska

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On Monday, November 14, the moon was full, as it is every 28 days. However, this was no ordinary full moon; this was the closest, brightest, and largest supermoon since 1948, and no moon will be this close again until 2034. Additionally, this was the second supermoon in 2016, with the first occurring in mid-October and the third (and last) one occurring in mid-December.

It’s not every year that we have a chance to see three supermoons in a row. A supermoon can only occur when the moon both is in perigee, and is in the “full moon” phase. When the moon is in perigee (literal meaning, “around Earth”), it is at the closest point to Earth in its orbit. The opposite would be apogee (literal meaning, “away from Earth”), or when the moon is farthest from Earth. As you may remember, orbits aren’t perfectly circular. They’re elliptical, with the planet/star the object is orbiting around acting as one of the ellipse’s two foci. Therefore, at different points in its orbit, the moon can either be closer or farther to Earth.

perigee/apogee

The full moon, though, is caused by the sun, Earth, and moon aligning in a more-or-less straight line, which results in the moon being lit up by the sun while the portion of Earth that is facing it is in the shade (traditionally called “night”).

full-moon-1

When the moon happens to be full while it’s in perigee, we get a supermoon, which can appear to be about 14% bigger and 30% brighter than while it’s in apogee, or while it’s a “micromoon”. In technical terms, a supermoon is in perigee-syzygy, where a syzygy is the alignment of three or more astronomical bodies, whereas the micromoon is in apogee-syzygy.

As you can see, the fact that three supermoons are occurring in a row is a pretty rare event, so if you have the chance, you should go out and see one for yourself. Even though the moon was at its closest at 8:52am on the 14th, it will still be noticeably bigger for a few days. The same goes for the one on December 13th at 7:05pm; even though it will only be at its absolute closest for a moment, for a few days before and after it will still appear to be bigger. The next micromoon, on the other hand, will be on June 9th, 2017, so don’t forget to look out for it as well.

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