Everyone’s buzzing about the giant moon about to hit Earth.
Okay, it’s not hitting us—but Mother Earth’s satellite will be at its closest point this year, and that will be abundantly evident this weekend.
May 5 is the biggest full moon of the year, dubbed the supermoon because it is at the point of its elliptical orbit that brings it within about 200,000 miles of Earth, at perigee. Moreover, the turning of the full moon and the closest approach happen a minute apart, making the sight all the more spectacular. Last year’s super moon, in March 2011, was actually 250 miles closer to Earth, but the fullness and the perigee were separated by 50 minutes, so this one appears brighter, according to NASA.
At sunset the moon won’t be quite full yet, but as it eases up over the horizon it will dwarf everything around it—an optical illusion known as a moon illusion.
“On May 5th, this Moon illusion will amplify a full Moon that's extra-big to begin with,” said NASA in a media release. “The swollen orb rising in the east at sunset should seem super indeed.”
According to The Old Farmer's Almanac, the May full moon is called the Flower Moon because “flowers spring forth in abundance this month.” There are Algonquin tribes that call it the Corn Planting Moon or the Milk Moon, the Almanac said.
Although the eye-catching sight will be hard to miss—the moon is 30 percent brighter and 14 percent bigger than normal full moons, appearing gigantic especially in relation to trees and buildings when it rises just after sunset on May 5—there are many in Indian country who will avert their eyes.
“The moon and the sun are sacred the way they were created, and you are not supposed to watch the moon or stare at it for a long time,” said Rudy Begay, a cultural resource specialist on the Navajo Nation who also consults with NASA.
Such moons have a reputation for causing mayhem. In the Middle Ages it was thought to cause mental disorders, and nowadays it’s blamed for everything from increased hospital admissions to higher crime. Tides, too, are affected, but only by about an inch, NASA said.
For those who are able to look, the sight will be one to behold, as at 11:34 the moon reaches its closest approach for the year. One minute later, at 11:35, it becomes officially full, in “almost perfect” timing, as NASA put it.
Last year’s super moon—it happens once annually—occurred in March, but it was a tad less striking because the fullness and the actual close approach, which was 400 kilometers closer to Earth than this year’s, were 50 minutes apart.
The moonlight may very well obscure the Eta Aquarid meteor shower, one of two annual showers consisting of dust from Halley’s comet, according to Space.com. Though some fireballs may be visible, the bulk of the 60 or so hourly shooting stars will be blotted out.
NASA explains all about the supermoon phenomenon in the video below.