Super Moon

Saturday’s moon will be the biggest and brightest of the year

May 04, 2012
Julio Cortez—AP

Full moons look even bigger on the horizon. Scientists call this effect the moon illusion.

On May 5, be sure to look up at the night sky. Experts predict that at 11:34 p.m. eastern time, the moon will line up with Earth and the sun. And because the moon will be at the closest point to Earth in its orbit, there will be a “super moon.” It will look as much as 14% bigger and 30% brighter than any other moon of 2012.

Full moons vary in how big they appear because of the moon’s oval orbit. The scientific term for when the moon is at the point nearest to Earth is perigee. A perigee full moon happens about once a year. Last year’s super moon was on March 19. It was reported as the biggest and brightest moon in 18 years.

Geoff Chester is an expert at the U.S. Naval Observatory. He says the moon is moving away from Earth over time. “The number of these extremely close full moons will dwindle,” Chester said. “Eventually, we won’t see any as extreme as the ones right now.”

The Titanic

Experts say there’s no reason to be alarmed. The super moon on May 5 will not cause ocean tides high enough to cause any problems. However, the same cannot be said for the super moon of 1912. Some experts believe that it may have had something to do with the sinking of the Titanic.

On January 3, 1912, Earth was at its closest point to the sun. A day later, the moon lined up with Earth and the sun. It caused the most extreme ocean tides of the 20th century. Those high tides lifted many grounded icebergs in Greenland. Three months later, the Titanic struck an unexpected iceberg in its path. “There were more icebergs floating around the North Atlantic than there usually were in April,” Chester said. “The theory holds a lot of truth.”                               

Moon Tricks

There are some tricks to getting the best view of the super moon. The best time to catch a glimpse of it is when it rises in the east. For reasons scientists can’t explain, a full moon looks largest when it reaches the horizon. Scientists call this effect the moon illusion. It also looks biggest through trees or next to large buildings. “Our brains play a trick on us,” Chester said, “and the moon looks really gigantic.”

Be warned: This only happens once in a blue moon. There won’t be another super moon this big until 2016.


To watch a video explaining the rare phenomenon, click here.

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