Only 8.30am here in the UK and the Supermoon media hype is already approaching potential Warp core breach levels…!!!
I’ve just been on BBC Cumbria asking people to be aware that this whole thing has been hyped up a ridiculous amount, and in fact the Moon won’t look *that* much more impressive, but I fear this runaway train’s brakes were cut days ago and a lot of people are going to go out tonight “Supermoon-hunting” and they’ll either be super disappointed with what they see, or will convince themselves it really does look huge because that;s what they’ve been told to expect.
This is happening a lot with astronomical events now – every meteor shower, no matter how modest, will “fill the sky with shooting stars”, every lunar eclipse will “turn the Moon blood red!”, every event is hyped up like a once-in-a-lifetime spectacle. Calm down, everyone. Here are the facts – which might not be what people want to hear, but they’re the truth: because it will be occurring when the Moon is at the closest point to Earth in its orbit, today’s Full Moon *will* look bigger and brighter than usual, but just a tiny 7% bigger than the average Full Moon, and only 14% bigger than a Full Moon which occurs when the Moon is at its farthest point from the Earth…
Now, those numbers sound pretty impressive, I know. After all, if you made a Mars bar 14% bigger (you know, to the size they used to be!) you’d notice it for sure. If you made your nose 7% bigger you’d notice that too. But what non-astronomers don’t appreciate is that the Moon is a tiny, tiny thing in a huge, huge sky, so a 7% increase in its size will not be slap-across-the-face obvious. Think of it this way: if you stuck a small coin to the wall where you are right now, then walked to the far end of the room and looked back at it, that coin would look tiny wouldn’t it? Now imagine it magically increasing in size by 7%… it would STILL look tiny! That’s all that’s happening tonight – the Moon, which is actually tiny in the sky, will appear a little bit bigger, but not really big enough to be obviously larger than usual to the naked eye. Sorry.
There will be lots of gorgeous pictures appearing online (in fact they’re already there, taken by people in other countries who have already seen the Moon) and the Moon will look ENORMOUS on them, but just be aware that they’ll have been taken with telephoto lenses zooming in on the Moon, so they’ll exaggerate its size. That old saying “The camera never lies”? Not true in astronomy. In astronomy the camera lies through its back teeth…!
So, tonight, if you are lucky enough to be under a gap in the cloud, PLEASE don’t fall for the hype and expect to see a blindingly-bright, bloated, silvery Moon the size of a hot air balloon rising up from behind the hills. Sorry to be a killjoy, but that’s not going to happen, and I think it’s important to be honest about these things. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look. A Full Moon is always a beautiful sight, especially if you see it rising up from behind distant trees or hills, and Supermoon or not, tonight’s Full Moon will be a beautiful sight.
And if all this Supermoon excitement has got you looking at the night sky for the first time, then welcome to the fascinating and rewarding hobby of stargazing! Glad to have you with us! The Supermoon and its hype will come and go, but when it has gone there will still be a lot to see “up there”. As well as the stars and the constellations they make, you can also see planets, star clusters, galaxies, shooting stars and much, much more. You don’t need a telescope to see many of these things, they’re visible to the naked eye if you know where and when to look, and what you’re looking for. If you’re not sure about what to do next, just contact your local astronomical society (you’ll find their details with a quick Google search or in the “Local Clubs” directory in your local library) or even drop me a line here in the comments section if you like and I’ll try to help.
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