Biggest Full Moon of the Year: Take 2

Jan 08, 2009
The perigee full of Dec. 2008. "A cold wind was blowing as the Moon set over a neighbor's farm," says photographer Eric Ingmundson of Sparta, Wisconsin. "Next time (Jan. 10th) I plan to use a tripod."

When last month's full Moon rose over Florida, onlooker Raquel Stanton of Cocoa Beach realized that something was up.

"The Moon was stunningly gorgeous--and it looked bigger than usual!" she says. "My whole family noticed and watched in awe."

Like millions of others around the world, she had witnessed the biggest full Moon of 2008--a "perigee Moon," 14% wider and 30% brighter than lesser Moons she had seen before. "I'll never forget it."

Alert: It's about to happen again.

This Saturday night, Jan. 10th, another perigee Moon is coming. It's the biggest full Moon of 2009, almost identical to the one that impressed onlookers in Dec. 2008.

Johannes Kepler explained the phenomenon 400 years ago. The Moon's orbit around Earth is not a circle; it is an ellipse, with one side 50,000 km closer to Earth than the other. Astronomers call the point of closest approach "perigee," and that is where the Moon will be this weekend.

Perigee full Moons come along once or twice a year. 2008 ended with one and now 2009 is beginning with another. It's the best kind of déjà vu for people who love the magic of a moonlit landscape.

January is a snowy month in the northern hemisphere, and the combination of snow + perigee moonlight is simply amazing. When the Moon soars overhead at midnight, the white terrain springs to life with a reflected glow that banishes night, yet is not the same as day. You can read a newspaper, ride a bike, write a letter, and at the same time count the stars overhead. It is an otherworldly experience that really must be sampled first hand.

Another magic moment happens when the perigee Moon is near the horizon. That is when illusion mixes with reality to produce a truly stunning view. For reasons not fully understood by astronomers or psychologists, low-hanging Moons look unnaturally large when they beam through trees, buildings and other foreground objects. This weekend, why not let the "Moon illusion" amplify a full Moon that's extra-big to begin with? The swollen orb rising in the east at sunset may seem so nearby, you catch yourself reaching out to touch it.

You won't be the only one. Even at perigee, the Moon is 360,000 km away, yet the distant beauty beckons to poets, stargazers and NASA with equal force: "Come back," it seems to say, "I'm really not so far away."

Source: by Dr. Tony Phillips, Science@NASA

Explore further: France raises heat on decision for next Ariane rocket

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Explainer: How do satellites orbit the Earth?

Aug 11, 2014

Take a look at the moon and it isn't hard to imagine it as a planet. A 3,476 kilometres-in-diameter ball of rock, with basalt plains and mountain ranges, whose gravitational pull produces tides here on Earth.

Image: Super Perigee Moon

Mar 21, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- The full moon is seen as it rises near the Lincoln Memorial, Saturday, March 19, 2011, in Washington.

Super full moon

Mar 17, 2011

Mark your calendar. On March 19th, a full Moon of rare size and beauty will rise in the east at sunset. It's a super "perigee moon"--the biggest in almost 20 years.

Recommended for you

Miranda: An icy moon deformed by tidal heating

2 hours ago

Miranda, a small, icy moon of Uranus, is one of the most visually striking and enigmatic bodies in the solar system. Despite its relatively small size, Miranda appears to have experienced an episode of intense ...

The latest observations of interstellar particles

8 hours ago

With all the news about Voyager 1 leaving the heliosphere and entering interstellar space you might think that the probe is the first spacecraft to detect interstellar particles. That isn't entirely true, ...

User comments : 0