'Supermoon' Science: Biggest Full Moon Explained
Skywatcher Roberto Porto took this photo of the biggest full moon of 2012, a so-called supermoon, in Costa Adeje, Tenerife, Spain, on May 5, 2012.
May 7, 2012 --
The biggest full moon of the year, a "supermoon," could be seen in the night sky on Saturday. We asked our Tumblr and Twitter followers to send in pictures of the supermoon from around the world. According to Space.com, "Because of a fluke of orbital timing, the full moon of May peaked late Saturday just as the moon was passing its perigee, the closest point to Earth of its orbit. The result was the biggest full moon of the year, which NASA and other scientists nicknamed the supermoon of 2012." The following pictures show an array of places and settings for the picturesque moon. Here, the supermoon is seen from El Salvador.
From Tumblr iamloy: "Here's a close up picture of the supermoon or perigee moon we have tonight. The moon is the brightest tonight out of the whole year. This picture was taken in an island called Guam." Camera : Canon Rebel T3i Lens : 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 F-Stop : f/5 Exposure Time : 20 seconds
The moon perigee as seen from California through a 4.5" Dobsonian telescope. from sagan-naut Tumblr
This supermoon "teaser" was taken Aurora, Colo. with a Canon PowerShot SX30 IS.
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The night sky in Sydney, Australia offered a clear view.
PHOTOS: 2011 Supermoon: Readers Photographs
There is more to a "supermoon" than meets the eye.
Science governs the appearance of the largest full moon of the year, and this weekend you can check out the amazing lunar sight for yourself.
On Sunday (June 23), the moon will be at its closest point to Earth — called perigee. This relatively close brush will happen as the moon enters its fullest phase, creating the cosmic coincidence known as the supermoon. At its fullest and closest, the moon will appear about 12 percent larger in the sky. [Amazing Supermoon Photos of 2012]
"It doesn't matter where you are, the full moon you're seeing will be the biggest for 2013," Michelle Thaller, the assistant director of science at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center said. "… That 12 percent size different can mean as much as a 30 percent change in the brightness, so this will be a particularly bright supermoon."
How to see the supermoon
Weather permitting, everybody should be able to see the supermoon. The moon will be rising from the east right around sunset, Thaller said. It will appear huge and low on the horizon before rising brightly into the sky for the night. Saturday and Sunday should both be ideal viewing opportunities.
A changing distance
Supermoons occur about once annually, and this year, the supermoon is closer than it has been in a little while, Thaller said.
The distance from the Earth to the moon varies along the rocky satellite's elliptical orbit. Perigee differs from month to month, so sometimes the supermoon is a little closer or further away, Thaller said.
"The closest the moon gets can actually vary much as much as the diameter of the Earth," Thaller said. "That seems like a pretty big number, but the moon is actually 30 times the diameter of the Earth away from us. If you line up 30 Earths, that's about the average distance of the moon away, but as it swings a little bit closer to us, that distance can vary."
The sun can be to blame for the difference in distance. In the winter, when the Earth is closest to the sun, a supermoon could be even closer and more stunning, Thaller said. The strength of the sun's gravity pulls both the moon and the Earth towards it slightly, making the moon dip closer to the planet.
Science from a supermoon
Although it might be a brilliant skywatching opportunity, not a lot of scientific research comes from the supermoon. Scientists prefer to study the moon from a closer vantage point, Thaller said.
"The supermoon for is a fun chance to talk about the changes in the sky observing the universe," Thaller told SPACE.com. "As scientists, we like to observe the moon a little bit closer up and right now we have LRO, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, a spacecraft actually orbiting the moon. We're taking these incredible high resolution pictures of the entire lunar surface."
More from Space.com:
Supermoon Secrets: 7 Surprising Big Moon Facts
'Supermoon' Rising: How to Photograph This Weekend's Full Moon
How to Observe the Moon (Infographic)
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