Space & Innovation

Next Supermoon Will Be the Biggest Since 1948

Monday morning will play host to the biggest supermoon for a generation.

You may be getting a little tired of the supermoon headlines - I mean, come on, how "super" is it if it happens between four to six times a year? - but if there's one supermoon you should probably pay attention to, it's the one that's going to dazzle our skies early Monday morning. This supermoon is going to extra super; it's going to be the biggest supermoon that has graced our skies since 1948 and we won't see another one quite like it until 2034.

So what is a supermoon and what makes this one so special?

As the moon orbits Earth, its orbit is slightly elliptical. This means that it can come as close to our planet as 225,300 miles (at perigee) and as far away as 251,900 miles (at apogee). Should a full moon, which occurs once (or sometimes twice) a month, coincide around the time of perigee, we can expect a larger, brighter moon in the sky.

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It is known as "syzygy" when the sun, Earth and moon line up during the moon's orbit around Earth. When syzygy and perigee happens at the same time, you get a supermoon. And the Nov. 14 syzygy happens within 2 hours of perigee, the closest cosmic synchronization for 70 years, so it's being dubbed as a super-supermoon.

When seeing a supermoon on a clear night, you might notice that the full moon as being particularly bright. This is because, at perigee, the moon appears 14% bigger in the sky (when compared with apogee) and will therefore be 30% brighter. It's basically a full moon on steroids.

As for Monday's supermoon, you won't notice anything different from previous supermoons, but rest in the knowledge that this is the biggest supermoon of a generation. The exact time of perigee is 6:22 a.m. EST and the exact time of the full moon is at 8:52 a.m. EST. Sadly, this is after moonset for most of the US, so the official advice is to get outside late Sunday night or early Monday morning to see a pretty close super-supermoon.

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"I've been telling people to go out at night on either Sunday or Monday night to see the supermoon," said Noah Petro, deputy project scientist for NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) mission at Goddard Space Flight Center, Md. "The difference in distance from one night to the next will be very subtle, so if it's cloudy on Sunday, go out on Monday. Any time after sunset should be fine. Since the moon is full, it'll rise at nearly the same time as sunset, so I'd suggest that you head outside after sunset, or once it's dark and the moon is a bit higher in the sky. You don't have to stay up all night to see it, unless you really want to!"

If you miss Monday's supermoon, don't despair, you only have to wait until Dec. 14 for the next one. Though great for moon-lovers, the December supermoon will be a bummer of meteor hunters. That supermoon will wipe out hopes of seeing all but the brightest "shooting stars" of the Geminid Meteor Shower. The moon's glare will be a huge challenge, even for stargazers with the clearest of skies.

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