Monday 26 June 2017

What is a 'supermoon' and when can I see it?

A man takes picture of the screen displaying the moon, appearing in a dim red colour, which is covered by the Earth's shadow during a total lunar eclipse in Warsaw
A man takes picture of the screen displaying the moon, appearing in a dim red colour, which is covered by the Earth's shadow during a total lunar eclipse in Warsaw
Independent.ie Newsdesk

Independent.ie Newsdesk

Ever looked up at the night sky to see a full moon so close you could almost touch it? Well done, you've spotted a supermoon.

If you're lucky on Wednesday night you'll see the last in the series of three supermoons.

What is a supermoon and why is this one significant?

The phenomenon occurs when the moon appears  14 per cent bigger and up to 30 per cent brighter than usual as it moves closer to Earth than it has in decades.

The event, described as "undeniably beautiful" by American space agency Nasa, will not be matched until the moon makes a similar approach in 2034.

Tomorrow's phenomenon is the last in a series of three supermoons: the first was on October 15, the second on November 14 and the third overnight December 13/14.

The supermoon raises behind seagulls on the beach in Evanston, Illinois
The supermoon raises behind seagulls on the beach in Evanston, Illinois

When was the last supermoon?

Monday, November 14, the supermoon was the biggest and brightest in 70 years. A second supermoon was spotted on November 15 and the last of the year will be on December 13/14.

How can I see it?

The best time to view it in Ireland will be when the sun is setting in the late afternoon. The closer to the horizon it is, the bigger it will appear.

The 'Supermoon' in Dublin
The 'Supermoon' in Dublin

Pick a place with the least light pollution. Paul Thomsett, chairman of the South East Kent Astronomical Society said: "As long as the skies are clear and you have a good view to the south you will have no trouble seeing our nearest celestial neighbour blazing in the night sky."

"Weather permitting [it] will be visible without the need for a telescope."

If you're lucky you could see up to 100 meteors or 'shooting stars' every hour.

Clear skies are vital. Get as far away from light pollution as possible, give your eyes some time to adapt to the dark, lie down and look up.

What do I look for?

Robin Scagell, vice-president of the Society for Popular Astronomy, said: "It will be above rooftops and trees and chimneys and always appears bigger that way because you're comparing it to foreground objects.

The 'supermoon' will be brighter and appear larger than normal
The 'supermoon' will be brighter and appear larger than normal

"I'm always pleased for people to get their binoculars out and look up at the craters and the seas."

As well as being closer and brighter, the moon will look orange and red when it first rises. As the moon gets higher in the sky, it returns to its normal white/yellow colour.

Where do I need to look exactly?

You can spot the meteors anywhere, but they will appear to come from the Gemini constellation.

During December, it begins the evening in the east and moves across the sky to the west during the night. Find Orion's Belt - three bright stars positioned in a row - and then look above it and a little to the left.

How common are supermoons?

They're fairly frequent, although November's supermoon will be a once-in-a-generation sight. There are six supermoons in 2016. We've already had five.

Each full moon of the year is given a name - although they vary according to the source. October's full moon is referred to as the Hunter's moon because it appears very soon after sunset, and traditionally generated more light for farmers working in the fields and hunters to spot wildlife.

How close does the moon actually get?

It might look close, but of course it's not that close.

The closest full moon of the whole of the 21st century will fall on December 6, 2052.

Will the tides be larger?

Possibly, yes. Most people know that tides are governed by the gravitational pull of the moon and, to a lesser extent, the sun. Because the sun and moon go through different alignments, this affects the size of the tides.

When the moon is closer to Earth, it can lead to slightly higher tides, and greater variations between the tides.

Tell me more about the moon

The moon is the Earth's only natural satellite. It's 4.6 billion years old and was formed between 30-50 million years after the solar system was formed.

The moon is smaller than Earth. It's about the same size as Pluto. In fact its surface area is actually less than the surface area of Asia - about 14.6 million square miles, according to space.com.

A new moon occurs every 29.5 days. The moon 'disappears' from the sky when it is between Earth and the sun with it’s illuminated side facing away from us.

When the moon is opposite the sun we see a full moon as it's fully lit up by the sun. In between, we see a crescent moon as only some reflected sunlight is seen.

The moon has earthquakes, caused by the gravitational pull of Earth. Experts believe the moon has a molten core, just like Earth.

Telegraph.co.uk

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