May 6, 2012 at 1:17 PM ET
The supermoon of 2012 is over, but the joys of moongazing are not. Even though Saturday night's lunar showing was the biggest and brightest of the year, the views are nearly as good anytime around the full moon — tonight, for example.
Photographs of the supermoon sight streamed out over online channels, including Twitter feeds, Facebook updates, blog postings and slick slideshows (such as our own roundup). They also streamed into msnbc.com's FirstPerson in-box. I've put together a selection of 10 submissions here.
The kind of supermoon we saw last night isn't exactly a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence. The phenomenon, also known as a perigee moon, can be seen whenever the full moon occurs while it's near the closest point of its elliptical orbit around Earth. Last night, the moon was just 221,802 miles away from Earth, or about 15,000 miles closer than average. The moon's angular size was 14 percent wider than it is at maximum distance, and it was 30 percent brighter than minimum moonshine.
If we define a supermoon as the biggest, brightest full moon of a given year, next year's supermoon will be almost as good as this year's, on June 23, 2013. The supermoon of 2014 will be brighter, and the 2016 supermoon will outdo last year's, which got the moongazing fad started. EarthSky News has the schedule for the next few years. Some rightly note that the moon is worth watching on every night of the year, and that the full moon isn't necessarily the best time to see all the detail the lunar disk can offer. But there's nothing wrong in having an annual holiday devoted to moongazing, is there?
The next big sky event is coming up on May 20, when the new moon blots out most of the sun to create an annular solar eclipse. A wide swath of the Asia-Pacific region and North America will see a partial eclipse, while folks situated along a narrow track of territory extending from China across to the Oregon-California coast and down to Texas can witness a "Ring of Fire," in which the moon's disk covers all but the thin rim of the sun's disk. That'll be an amazing thing to see, but make sure you use proper eye protection. You can get the details from my eclipse viewing guide, and learn more about the appeal of an annular eclipse.
There's an astronomical connection between this weekend's supermoon and this month's "Ring of Fire": Because the moon was nearly as close as it can come for the full-moon phase, it's nearly as far out as it can go for the new-moon phase. Thus, the moon's apparent size is significantly smaller than usual when it tries to covers up the sun — and that's why we have a ring of fire rather than the fully blacked-out sun of a total eclipse. For that, we'll have to wait until November. Stay tuned in the weeks and months ahead for more about all these astronomical phenomena, plus June's last-in-a-lifetime transit of Venus.
More about the supermoon:
Many thanks to all our FirstPerson photographers, including Lynn Schneider, John McNamara, Josh Warner and Mitzi Easley.
Alan Boyle is msnbc.com's science editor. Connect with the Cosmic Log community by "liking" the log's Facebook page, following @b0yle on Twitter and adding the Cosmic Log page to your Google+ presence. You can also check out "The Case for Pluto," my book about the controversial dwarf planet and the search for new worlds.