Full Moon rising over the Conimicut Point Light in Warwick, RI. Sept. 16, 2016. © Jason Major.
You’ve probably heard the news or read the headlines: the full Moon on November 14 will be a “supermoon,” and in fact the biggest and brightest one since 1948 and until 2034. But what does that really mean and what can we expect to see in the night sky?
In all honesty it won’t be that much different from the garden variety, mild-mannered regular full Moon. (But it will still be no less beautiful to look at!)
Supermoon is really just a dramatic name for a full Moon that occurs at or near the time when the Moon is also closest to Earth in its orbit – a point called perigee. This doesn’t always occur but it’s not at all unusual either…astronomically, it’s not a big deal.
The Moon’s orbit around Earth isn’t a perfect circle with Earth in the center; it’s offset and oval-shaped (and at a tilt too) so the Moon’s distance from Earth is always changing a little bit as it travels along its 27.3-day-long orbital path.
When the Moon is farthest from Earth, it’s at apogee; when it’s closest, ...