For sky watchers, the end of 2016 is bringing some excellent lunar viewing opportunities. From Oct. 16 through the end of the year there are three supermoon sightings and the one coming up on Nov. 14 might be the best of the year.
Because of the moon's elliptical orbit, one side of the orbit — the perigee — is about 30,000 miles closer to the Earth than the other side of the orbit, called the apogee. When the sun, Earth, and moon line up, it's called syzygy (toss that in your back pocket for a guaranteed Jeopardy! win someday). As NASA explains, "When perigee-syzygy of the Earth-moon-sun system occurs and the moon is on the opposite side of the Earth from the sun, we get a perigee moon or more commonly, a supermoon!"
A supermoon isn't all that uncommon, but on Nov. 14 the moon is within approximately two hours of perigee, meaning that the supermoon is not just the biggest and brightest supermoon of the 21st century, it is going to be the biggest in almost seven decades. The last time the moon could be seen at this size was January of 1948. It won't come this close to the Earth again until Nov. 25, 2034, according to NASA. That means, at a minimum, you should crack open the blinds and take a look.
But it'd be much better get somewhere away from the lights of the city and enjoy a pretty special sight on the 14th, which is expected to peak around 8:52 am ET. A supermoon can be up to 14 percent bigger and 30 percent brighter than an apogee full moon, but it can be hard to tell at times. NASA notes that if you're looking straight up with no frame of reference, the supermoon could look just like any other moon. However, if you catch it near the horizon, it creates a "moon illusion" that can make the moon look larger. "When the moon is near the horizon it can look unnaturally large when viewed through trees, buildings, or other foreground objects," NASA writes. "The effect is an optical illusion, but that fact doesn’t take away from the experience."
The following supermoon is exactly one month later, on Dec. 14. It won't be as big, but it'll be bright enough to reduce the visibility of the geminid meteor shower, often one of the best meteor showers of the year. Don't be lulled into ignoring this because a good series of astronomical viewing opportunities this fall, this is going to be a pretty special viewing.
Take a look at the best pictures of Monday's supermoon.
h/t Science Alert
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