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: Life 'not as we know it' possible on Saturn's moon Titan

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Boy or girl? Lemur scents have the answer

3 hours ago

Dozens of pregnancy myths claim to predict whether a mom-to-be is carrying a boy or a girl. Some say you can tell by the shape of a woman's bump, or whether she craves salty or sweet.

SOHO sees something new near the sun

5 hours ago

An unusual comet skimmed past the sun on Feb 18-21, 2015, as captured by the European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA's Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, or SOHO.

Train car design reduced impact in Southern California crash

5 hours ago

(AP)—After a horrific crash a decade ago that killed 11 people and injured 180 more, Southern California's commuter train network began investing heavily in passenger cars designed to protect passengers from the full force ...

Recommended for you

Study of atmospheric 'froth' may help GPS communications

Feb 27, 2015

When you don't know how to get to an unfamiliar place, you probably rely on a smart phone or other device with a Global Positioning System (GPS) module for guidance. You may not realize that, especially at ...

SMAP satellite extends 5-meter reflector boom

Feb 27, 2015

Like a cowboy at a rodeo, NASA's newest Earth-observing satellite, the Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP), has triumphantly raised its "arm" and unfurled a huge golden "lasso" (antenna) that it will soon ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.