ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Last week, I wrote about the lunar eclipse that will be taking place early Wednesday morning.
The moon will be setting at 5:41 a.m. here in Rochester, so as far as eclipse is concerned, we’ll only be seeing what appears to be the very beginnings of a “shadow” on old Luna at that time.
Even though we won’t see much of this eclipse, this particular full moon (for May the full moon is known as “The Flower Moon”) is significant in that it is the closest full moon of the year. This particular happening is known as lunar perigee and is commonly called a “supermoon”.
Between the two events happening at the same time, it’s safe to say that the moon is putting on something of a show tonight and tomorrow!
WHY IS THIS MOON CALLED A SUPERMOON?
The moon’s distance from Earth varies throughout its monthly orbit because the moon’s orbit isn’t perfectly circular. Every month, the moon’s orbit (eccentric because it’s shape is not perfectly round) carries it to apogee.
Apogee is just a fancy term for its most distant point from Earth.
Approximately two weeks later, the orbit carries old Luna to perigee – the moon’s closest point to Earth in its monthly orbit.
When the moon is in perigee, and it’s full, it’s commonly referred to as a “supermoon”.
So from where does this term originate? Interestingly enough, the term “supermoon” was first coined not by an astronomer, but actually by an astrologer named Richard Noelle in 1979.
According to Noelle’s definition, a supermoon is defined as “a new or full moon which occurs with the Moon at or near (within 90% of) its closest approach to Earth in a given orbit (perigee). In short, this means the Earth, Moon and Sun are all in a line, with Moon in its nearest approach to Earth. It’s not quite clear why 90% was chosen as the definition here.
The technical term preferred by the scientific community for a Supermoon is perigee-syzygy of the Earth-Moon-Sun system. In astronomy, the term syzygy refers to the straight-line configuration of three celestial bodies.
Another name for “supermoon” is a perigee Full Moon.
A LOT of names for one concept. From a conversational perspective, it’s not difficult to see why the term “supermoon” is a lot easier to remember!
WHEN CAN I SEE THEIS SUPERMOON IN MY BACKYARD?
The best time to enjoy this Super Full Flower Moon, or any other Full Moon for that matter, is when it is closest to the horizon at both moonrise and at moonset. Find an unobstructed view in a darker countryside setting for the best possible view.
At 7:14 a.m., the full Flower moon will be at technical perigee when it is 222,116.6 miles from Earth. You won’t be able to “see” that, since the moon will have already set more than an hour and a half prior, but that is when its perigee officially takes place.
There’s a good reason for why that moon looks so good at certain times. When the Full Moon is low in the sky, it looks bigger and brighter than when it’s higher up in the sky. This is called the “moon illusion”.
The moon illusion explains more of why the moon looks the way it does to the human eye. The boost in brightness and in how big it seems is merely boosted when the moon is a bit closer to Earth.
For Rochester, tonight’s moonrise will be at 7:55 p.m. Tomorrow’s moonrise (Wednesday, May 26) will be at 9:17 p.m.
WHY IS THIS CALLED THE FLOWER MOON? DOES THIS MOON HAVE OTHER NAMES?
The Old Farmers Almanac has a list of full moon names. Every full moon for each month of the year is given a name based on this particular list. This full moon is called the “flower moon” because it’s when flowers blossom across parts of North America. The Algonquin peoples of North America first named this the Flower Moon, according to the Algonquin Way Cultural Center of Ontario, Canada.
Other peoples native to North America, such as the Cree of the Dakotas, termed this moon the “Budding Moon” or “Leaf Budding Moon”. It’s also been called the “Egg Laying Moon”, the “Frog Moon”, and the “Moon of the Shedding Ponies”. These names all have to do with the activities of animals this time of year and the arrival of warmer weather.
And yes, there are a number of other cultures, in addition to peoples native to North America, that have given names to full moons. The Chinese, Celtic, Old English, and New Guinea cultures are just a few who have done just that.
So…find some clear sky if you can tonight and tomorrow night and check out Mother Nature’s nightlight!