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'Supermoon' Visible Early Next Week


The second of three “Supermoons” will grace the skies on Monday, and will break some records in its proximity to the Earth.

The first supermoon occurred on October 16, and the year’s third is December 14. The next supermoon will be in August, 2034.

And just what is a “Supermoon?” For that we turn to Wayne Wooten, an astronomer at Pensacola State College who says for starters, the moon’s orbit around Earth is not circular.

“At perigee, when it’s closest to the Earth, it’s 221,000 miles away – more than 10% closer than when it’s at apogee at 252,000 miles away,” said Wooten. “There’s a perigee and apogee every lunar orbit. But sometimes those will happen whenever the moon is full, and at perigee it’s going to be closer and bigger than you would normally see it.”

Monday’s full moon is not only the closest of the three in 2016, according to NASA, but also the closest full moon since 1948 – the last time the Cleveland Indians won the World Series.

The website Space.com pinpoints the exact moment of the full moon is next Monday morning at 7:52 Central time. The moon will reach perigee within about 90 minutes of that time, and NASA says it may appear 14 percent larger and 30 percent brighter than usual. But Wooten says you have to look very closely to see any difference.

“If you just look at it with the naked eye it’s not going to be that noticeable, no,” said Wooten. “It’s going to be a big, bright full moon, but you’ve seen plenty of those before.”

The moon will look plenty full and bright Sunday and Monday nights as it rises in the east around sunset, climbs highest around midnight and then sets in the west at or near sunrise, according to EarthSky.

This phenomenon has been called “Supermoon” only since about 1979. Another name for it, taken from folklore, is a “Mega Beaver Moon.” 

“The ‘Beaver Moon’ was an American Indian tradition, where the beavers were particularly active in November, trying to put away as much saplings and stuff underwater to sustain them through the winter,” Wooten said. “And probably in the light of the full moon they kept working into the night.”

It’s also called the “Frosty Moon,” because in more northern climates they would occur during the time of the first frost. As we all well know, the ocean tides on Earth are governed by the Moon. Wooten says watch for a “spring tide.”

“When the moon and the sun are working together, and the moon is unusually close so its tidal influence is even greater than normal,” said Wooten. “So we would get enhanced highs and a few hours later, lower lows.”

In March, 2011 a supermoon occurred a week after the devastating earthquake that hit Japan. There was some talk about a link between the two, but NASA says the moon – super or otherwise – is incapable of such.

Dave came to WUWF in September, 2002, after 14 years as News Director at the Alabama Radio Network in Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham and a total of 27 years in commercial radio. He's also served as Alabama Bureau Chief for United Press International, and a stringer for the Birmingham Post-Herald.