In astronomical terms, we’re about to get up close and personal with our moon — super close, you could say.
When a full moon reaches its closest point to our planet in its elliptical orbit, that’s called a supermoon, or perigee in scientific terms. And this month’s supermoon on Nov. 14 is going to be the closest we’ve come to our orbiting neighbour in almost seven decades.
The last time the moon was this close was 1948, and it won’t happen again until 2034.
“In that sense, it’s kind of a super supermoon,” David Hanes, a professor of astronomy at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., told CBC News.
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At perigee, the moon is about 14 per cent closer than when it’s at its farthest point from Earth, which will make it appear 14 per cent bigger in the sky, according to NASA. It’ll also shine about 30 per cent more light onto us.
“Once it gets high in the sky then it’s like a huge light that’s turned on. I mean, if you go somewhere dark, you don’t need a flashlight to read,” astronomer Paul Mortfield, former director of Toronto’s David Dunlap Observatory, said.
The supermoon will hit its peak over North America on Monday morning at 6:22 a.m. ET, but you don’t have to get up early to enjoy it. Barring cloudy weather, a big, bright moon should be visible Sunday and Monday evening.
OK, maybe it’s not that super
Still, Hanes cautions about expecting too much when you look up at the night sky.
“There’s a lot of talk about supermoons, but the reality is — and I hate to be a killjoy — but the reality is you really wouldn’t notice the effect unless you knew about it in advance,” Hanes said.
“Suppose you were to take something like a beach ball and set it up, say, 30 feet away from you and look at it and see how big it looks, and then you turned around and someone moves it a couple of feet closer to you. It’s about 15 per cent closer. Is it going to look dramatically bigger? The answer is no, not really.”
But the moon will appear bigger
To get a sense of just how big and bright the supermoon is by comparison, Mortfield suggests going out on Monday night to take a picture of the supermoon, which will be some 356,000 kilometres away from the Earth.
Then, on another night when it’s farther away — it’ll be 406,000 kilometres from Earth on June 9 — snap a shot with the same equipment at the same time and location.
“And what you then do is compare them side by side and you can actually see that one is much bigger and one is much smaller,” Mortfield said.
Getting pumped about astronomy
Hanes and Mortfield agree the best part about the supermoon is that it gets people excited about space.
“We have supermoons all the time, but it’s only been in the last couple of years that people have caught onto this phrase,” he said. “But you know, what’s so great about this is getting people outside to actually look up at the sky.”
Mortfield’s advice for supermoon viewing is to go out with your local astronomy club. His group, York Region Astronomy, is heading to Toronto’s Bayview Reservoir Park on Monday just after sunset, and anyone is free to tag along.
And while you’re peeking through the telescope, you should check out what else the big, beautiful sky has to offer, Mortfield said.
Mars will likely be visible, he said, as will Venus and “some other exciting star clusters.”