Video: ‘Super Moon’ to light up night sky

  1. Closed captioning of: ‘Super Moon’ to light up night sky

    >> warning of a bit, bright, and harmless object in the sky on saturday night. this weekend, the full moon will be closer to the earth than any other time this year. the astronomers have a name for. sounds like a toothpaste commercial, but they say it will be 30% brighter, as much as 14% bigger than other full moons. there is no facial hair warnings posted. they say it could only negatively affect high tides in conjunction with any other

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updated 5/4/2012 11:43:22 AM ET 2012-05-04T15:43:22

On Saturday at 11:35 p.m. ET, the moon will officially turn full. And only 25 minutes later, the moon will also arrive at perigee, its closest approach to Earth — a distance of 221,802 miles (356,955 kilometers) away. 

The effect of this coincidence is a stunning skywatching sight called the " supermoon."

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In fact, this month's perigee is the closest of any perigee in 2012 (they vary by about 3 percent, because the moon's orbit is not perfectly circular). The result will be a 16 percent brighter-than-average full moon accompanied by unusually high and low tides this weekend and into the new week.

In contrast, later this year, on Nov. 28, the full moon will closely coincide with apogee, the moon's farthest point from Earth. [Amazing Supermoon Photos from 2011]

Spring tides
Every month, "spring" tides occur when the moon is full and new. The word "spring," in this case, is derived from the German springen, to "spring up," and is not — as is often mistaken — a reference to the spring season. At these times the moon and sun form a line with Earth, so their tidal effects add together.  The sun, because of its distance, exerts a little less than half the tidal force of the moon.

"Neap" tides, on the other hand, occur at those times when the moon is at first and last quarter and work at cross-purposes with the sun. At these times, tides are weak.

Tidal force varies as the inverse cube of an object's distance. During the supermoon on Saturday, the moon will be 12.2 percent closer at perigee than it will be two weeks later at apogee, which will nearly coincide with a new moon.  Therefore it will exert 42 percent more tidal force during this weekend's spring tides than during the spring tides near apogee two weeks later.  

Although a full moon theoretically lasts just a moment, that moment is imperceptible to ordinary observation, and for a day or so before and after most will speak of seeing the nearly full moon as "full." The shaded strip is so narrow, and changing in apparent width so slowly, that it is hard for the naked eye to tell whether it is present or on which side it is. 

And while this weekend's moon will be — as the Observer's Handbook of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada suggests on page 101 — the "largest full moon of 2012," the variation of the moon's distance is not readily apparent to observers viewing the moon directly. 

Or is it?

Moon illusion
When the perigee moon lies close to the horizon it can appear absolutely enormous. That is when the famous "moon illusion" combines with reality to produce a truly stunning view.

For reasons not fully understood by astronomers or psychologists, a low-hanging moon looks incredibly large when hovering near to trees, buildings and other foreground objects. The fact that the moon will be much closer than usual this weekend will only serve to amplify this strange effect.

So, a perigee moon, either rising in the east at sunset or dropping down in the west at sunrise, might seem to make the moon appear so close it almost seems that you could touch it. You can check out this effect for yourself by first noting the times for moonrise and moonset in your area here

And one final note: Saturday also marks the midpoint of spring in the Northern Hemisphere. The exact moment between the March equinox and the June solstice occurs at 10:11 a.m. ET May 5. This spring's big full moon seemingly places an exclamation point on this seasonal benchmark. Traditionally, the full moon of May is known as the "Flower Moon" since flowers are now abundant most everywhere. It is also known as the Full Corn Planting Moon or the Milk Moon.

Happy moon watching!

If you snap an amazing photo of the supermoon and would like to share it with Space.com for a story or gallery, send photos and comments to managing editor Tariq Malik at: tmalik@space.com.

Joe Rao serves as an instructor and guest lecturer at New York's Hayden Planetarium. He writes about astronomy for The New York Times and other publications, and he is also an on-camera meteorologist for News 12 Westchester, N.Y.

© 2013 Space.com. All rights reserved. More from Space.com.

Photos: 50 years of views from the moon

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  1. Up-close exploration of the moon, Earth's only natural satellite, began in 1959 when the Soviet Union launched its Luna 1 spacecraft on a flyby mission. NASA quickly followed up with missions of its own. Since then, the Europeans, Japan, China and India have launched their own lunar exploration programs. This view shows the moon as seen from the international space station. Click the "Next" arrow above to check out 11 images from the moon made over the last 50 years. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. 1959: Far side in full view

    In October 1959, the Soviet Union's Luna 3 spacecraft - the third successfully launched to the moon - made history as the first probe to image the far side of the moon. The photos were fixed and dried on the spacecraft and beamed back to Earth. Though fuzzy by today's standards, the images showed stark differences from the near side, including relatively few dark areas, called lunar maria. (RSA via NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. 1966: A restored ‘Earthrise'

    In 1966 and 1967, NASA sent a series of Lunar Orbiter spacecraft to collect detailed images of moon's surface in preparation for the Apollo program. The tapes were then put in storage. Decades later, researchers with the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project collected the vintage hardware required to play back the imagery. That imagery was digitized , reproducing the images at a much higher resolution than previously possible. On Nov. 11, 2008, the project researchers released this enhanced photograph of Earth rising above the lunar surface, originally made by Lunar Orbiter 1 in 1966. (LOIRP / NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. 1968: The most famous 'Earthrise'

    On Christmas Eve 1968, Apollo 8 astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and William Anders made history as the first humans to orbit the moon. They were scouting its surface for a suitable landing spot for future missions. But the sight of Earth rising above the moon's horizon caught their - and the world's - attention. The photograph, called "Earthrise," is among the most famous ever made from the moon. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. 1969: One small step

    On July 20, 1969, an estimated 1 billion people around the world were glued to television screens to watch astronaut Neil Armstrong, commander of Apollo 11, climb down from the lunar module spacecraft for a stroll on the moon. As his foot touched the lunar surface, he famously said "That's one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind." This image is a black-and-white reproduction from the telecast, showing Armstrong stepping down from the lunar module's ladder. (NASA Johnson Space Center) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. 1969: Man on the moon

    Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, shown here, accompanied Armstrong for the famous walk on the moon. This iconic image is one of the few that shows Armstrong on the lunar surface - as seen in the reflection on the spacesuit's visor. The astronauts walked around on the lunar surface for about two and a half hours. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. 1994: Looking for ice

    This mosaic image of the moon's southern polar region, made by the Clementine spacecraft in 1994, suggested that the region could harbor water ice within regions of its craters that are never lit by the sun. The water ice would be left over from impacting comets. Scientists have debated the evidence for and against water ice at the poles ever since the Clementine discovery. The current era of lunar exploration could resolve the debate. If water ice exists, it could help quench the thirst of future human colonists and be used to make fuel for rockets. (NASA / JPL / USGS) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. 2006: European moon probe crashes

    On Sept. 3, 2006, the European Space Agency's SMART-1 spacecraft went out with a bang - a planned crash landing into a volcanic plain called the Lake of Excellence. The impact, shown here, was captured by the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope. (The black lines are a processing error due to the brightness of the event.) The spacecraft was launched in 2003 primarily to test an ion propulsion system, which uses energy captured by the sun to produce a stream of charged particles. The slow-and-steady propulsion system may be used on future interplanetary missions. (Christian Veillet / CFHT via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. 2007: China targets the moon

    China made its first major strides in the lunar exploration game with the launch of the Chang'e 1 spacecraft in October 2007. The orbiter was sent to make a detailed, 3-D map of the moon's surface. Premier Wen Jiabao unveiled the first image at a ceremony in Beijing, shown here. Chang'e 1's 16-month mission ended with a controlled crash. The country reportedly plans to launch lunar rovers in 2010 and 2017, and a manned mission to the moon by 2020. (Huang Jingwen / XINHUA NEWS AGENCY) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. 2008: India joins the lunar club

    The Indian Space Research Organization successfully launched its Chandrayaan 1 spacecraft on Oct. 22, 2008, for a mapping mission to the moon. A probe released from the mothership took this picture of the lunar surface during its descent to a planned crash landing at the south pole. The Indian space agency plans to use this and other data for a lunar rover mission in 2011 and, eventually, a manned mission. (ISRO via EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. 2009: Japan orbiter watches eclipse

    Some eclipse enthusiasts travel the globe to glimpse alignments of the sun, Earth and moon. Japan's Kaguya probe did them one better: It shot this sequence of a Feb. 10, 2009, eclipse from its lunar orbit. The image shows the view of the sun from the moon mostly covered by Earth. The "ring" appears dark at the bottom because it is obscured by the night-darkened limb of the moon. The Kaguya orbiter was launched in September 2007 to study the moon's origin and evolution. It made a controlled crash landing on the moon in June 2009. (JAXA / NHK) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. 2009: NASA goes back to the moon

    On June 18, 2009, NASA launched two spacecraft to the moon to map its surface in unprecedented detail, scout for future landing sites, and smash probes into a permanently shaded crater in hopes of resolving a longstanding debate over whether such regions contain water ice. NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter will orbit both poles for a year, and its mission could be extended to serve as a communications relay for future lunar missions. This is one of the first pictures sent back by the orbiter. LRO's sibling, the crater-smacking LCROSS probe, is due to impact the moon's south pole in October. (NASA / GSFC / ASU) Back to slideshow navigation
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