Biggest supermoon of 21st century to brighten the sky

Set your calendar for November 14 for a stunning lunar night, as you might be able to witness the biggest and brightest moon ever in nearly 70 years, provided the weather is clear.

“The full moon of November 14 is not only the closest full moon of 2016, but also the closest full moon to date in the 21st century,” says NASA. “The full moon won’t come this close to Earth again until 25 November 2034.”

Referred to as a “supermoon” or more technically, a perigee moon, the moon will be full and closer to Earth than the average full moon. When these occur together, the moon appears to be up to 14% bigger and up to 30% brighter as compared to its farthest point from earth. This month’s full moon will be the closest to Earth since January 26, 1948.

However, NASA says the November 14 moon could, perhaps, even be called an “extra-supermoon”, and here’s why.

According to NASA, “Since the moon’s orbit is elliptical, one side (perigee) is about 30,000 miles (48,000 kilometres) closer to Earth than the other (apogee). The word syzygy, in addition to being useful in word games, is the scientific name for when the Earth, sun, and moon line up as the moon orbits Earth. When perigee-syzygy of the Earth-moon-sun system occurs and the moon is on the opposite side of the Earth from the sun, we get a perigee moon or more commonly, a supermoon!”

A common misconception is that a Supermoon is rare, as we can see them several times a year. This happens three times this year: on October 16, November 14 and on December 14. However, the upcoming Supermoon (November 14) is special, as the moon becomes full just two hours after its closest approach to Earth.

“On November 14, it becomes full within about two hours of perigee – arguably making it an extra-supermoon,” NASA says.

While the moon would look spectacular on the night, stargazers would possibly not notice any difference between the three supermoons this year.

“The difference between other close moons would only be, in some instances, 100, 200 or 300 kilometres. To the human eye, that is almost imperceptible from a distance as great as that,” Perry Vlahos, the vice-president of the Astronomical Society of Victoria, said.

If the Moon is hanging high above your head, and you have no buildings or landmarks to compare it to, it can be difficult to tell that it’s bigger than usual. However, low-hanging moons could create what is known as a “moon illusion” – where the Moon is sitting closer to the horizon.

“When the moon is near the horizon, it can look unnaturally large when viewed through trees, buildings, or other foreground objects,” says NASA. “The effect is an optical illusion, but that fact doesn’t take away from the experience.”

If you are planning on viewing the supermoon, ensure that you go to a nice and dark place, which away from the lights of the city. If for some reason you are unable to witness the supermoon on November 14, there is another one coming up on December 14, which will be so bright that it will make it difficult to catch December’s renowned Geminid meteor shower.