The above image shows moonrise over a metropolitan area. Image Credit: Bill Watson (WillyFlyBoy), http://pictureontario.ca/blog/ .
This weekend, May 5 and 6, the rising full moon will be a perigee moon — a moon that reaches the closest point in its orbit at the time of its full phase. Because of its apparent increase in size and brightness, a perigee full moon has been nicknamed a "super moon." This weekend’s super moon will appear as much as 14 percent bigger and 30 percent brighter than other full moons of 2012. The moon will officially become full Saturday (May 5) at 11:35 PM EDT. The last super moon occurred March 19th 2011. Next month’s full moon comes close, but occurs one day after perigee. The next super moon will occur June 23rd, 2013.
The key to getting the most out of a super moon lies in looking to the sky at the right time. Look at the moon as it rises over the horizon and it will likely appear enormous, especially if seen behind objects in the foreground. For reasons still not understood by astronomers or psychologists, a low-hanging moon looks unnaturally large when it shines through trees, buildings and other foreground objects. A super moon amplifies this effect.
Some have long thought the full moon was to blame for misfortune, accidents, crime and chaos. The Latin word for “moon” — Luna — is the root of the word "lunacy." There was even wild speculation last year that the perigee moon contributed to the magnitude 9.0 earthquake that crushed the coast of Japan the week before.
It is true that during a full moon, when the moon is opposite the sun in our sky, the opposing gravitational pull from these bodies causes the high and low tides to be more extreme than normal. And a perigee moon does increase this affect even more. However, the effect of perigee full moons is much too small to influence Earth's seismic activity. In addition, there is no scientific evidence to date which supports the belief that lunar phases influence our mental faculties.
To read more on super moons, check out this NASA Science News article: http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2012/02may_supermoon/
To see a video on this weekend’s event, follow this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kOplwuMTyS4
To keep up with future moon perigees and lunar phases, check out John Walker’s Lunar Perigee and Apogee Calculator at Fourmi Labs: http://www.fourmilab.ch/earthview/pacalc.html
Extra, Extra! Get your Handouts Here!....
In related news, I had a great time this passed May 1st evening as I helped with the sidewalk telescopes event for the families of a local home school. Thanks, again, to friend and fellow amateur astronomer Craig MacDougal for the invitation to participate. To download a PDF copy of my “Exploring the Moon” handout from the event, click the following link: http://tiny.cc/JMTSSA002-20120501