Saturday's super moon will light up the night sky

Friday, May 4, 2012 | 3:34 p.m. CDT; updated 5:47 p.m. CDT, Saturday, May 5, 2012
In this photo from Thursday, the moon peeks through the clouds in the night sky in Huntsville, Ala. On Saturday, the moon will be a "super moon," or perigee moon, as the moon will be at its closest approach to the earth. It will appear 14 percent larger and 30 percent brighter than normal.

COLUMBIA — Feel free to go dancing in the moonlight this weekend as there will be plenty of it under a full moon bigger and brighter than any other in 2012.

At perigee, the closest point to Earth in its elliptical path, the moon will be up to 14 percent bigger and 30 percent brighter than at apogee, the other side of the path, according to the NASA Science News website.  This will occur at 10:35 p.m. Saturday This year, the moon will be about 356,955 kilometers away, according to National Geographic. Perigee is when one side of the moon is 50,000 kilometers closer to the earth than apogee, according to the NASA website.

Although some astronomy enthusiasts might sit outside to witness the phenomenon — nicknamed "super moon" — Professor Angela Speck from MU's Department of Physics and Astronomy does not anticipate much out of the ordinary. 

"The way that the eye responds to light is not linear, so I don't think people will really notice it that much," Speck said.

Val Germann, former president and current secretary and treasurer for the Central Missouri Astronomical Association, said that frequent stargazers might be more likely to see the difference than those who don't regularly pay attention.

"You can definitely tell when it's at perigee and apogee if you make a point to look at several of them over time," Germann said. "Now if you don't look at many moonrises, (super moon) might not look that different."

Germann still recommends watching the sky, though, and on Sunday night, rather than Saturday.

"(Saturday) night, the moon will rise almost exactly as the sun sets, which is pretty spectacular, but the sky is still bright," Germann said. "The best night to see this effect is actually the next night."

Moonrise will be at 8 p.m. Saturday and 9:10 p.m. Sunday, so the sky will be significantly darker when the moon comes up Sunday, he said.

Germann, who taught astronomy at Columbia College for 20 years, said moonrise is the best time to watch the sky because of the horizon effect.

According to NASA Science News website, the moon appears bigger when viewed on the horizon against buildings, trees and other objects of similar size.

Here are a few other tips from Germann for the inexperienced viewer to get the greatest impact from a "super moon" sighting:

  • Look due East as the moon comes up from the horizon.
  • Get outside well before moonrise so your eyes can adapt to the dark.
  • Leave the city and go to a park, or get up high where you can see the eastern horizon, on top of a building or on the roof of a parking garage.

The phenomenon isn't a once-in-a-lifetime event, according to the NASA Science News website, but NASA estimates that perigee and the full moon only coincide once a year. The last "super moon" appeared on March 19, 2011, approximately 400 kilometers closer than this year's, also according to the website.

The "super moon" is not all space has in store for this month. The annual Eta Aquarid meteor shower hits during the spring. This year's runs from April 19 through May 28, hitting its peak this weekend, according to the NASA website. Because the shower coincides with the "super moon," only the brightest fireballs will be seen, according to the Huffington Post.

Speck is more excited about the first solar eclipse of 2012, occurring May 20, than the "super moon." This annular solar eclipse occurs when a new moon crosses in front of the sun but doesn't fully cover it, leaving a ring, or annulus, of the sun, according to the NASA eclipse website. Speck describes this phenomenon as looking like the sun has a hole in it.

The forecast for Saturday night is predicted to be a low of 69 degrees with partly cloudy skies, and Sunday night's forecast predicts a low of 65 degrees and 60 percent chance of thunderstorms, according to the National Weather Service's forecast.

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