Science & Technology

‘Tis the season … for a holiday supermoon

Supermoon Sunday is at hand, and though some could scoff, the supermoon idea supplies a good excuse to take a shut take a look at a celestial sight we often take for granted.

By some measures, Sunday night time’s full moon is the only supermoon of 2017. The liberal definition could be a full or new moon that’s at or close to its closest method to Earth in its orbit. My definition is stricter: There’s just one supermoon in a given 12 months, reserved for the full moon with the greatest obvious measurement.

Supermoons are squishy as a result of there’s no official astronomical definition of the time period. The concept merely displays the indisputable fact that the moon’s obvious measurement varies relying on how shut it will get in its elliptical orbit round Earth. At its closest, it appears to be like 14 p.c bigger and 30 p.c brighter than it does at its farthest.

The distinction is noticeable for shut observers — significantly if the moon is close to the horizon, the place it may be in contrast with terrestrial landmarks. However for not-so-close observers? Not a lot. That has led some astronomers equivalent to Neil deGrasse Tyson to pooh-pooh the phenomenon.

“The supermoon is a 16-inch pizza in contrast with a 15-inch pizza,” he says. “It’s a barely larger moon; I ain’t utilizing the adjective ‘supermoon.’”

Luckily, Tyson’s phrase isn’t gospel, whether or not we’re speaking about supermoons, dwarf planets or adjectives vs. nouns. If you wish to rejoice the 12 months’s most tremendous supermoon as a holiday for moongazers, I don’t see something incorrect with that.

The larger query is whether or not we’ll be capable to see the supermoon in Seattle. The climate forecast calls for partly cloudy skies on Sunday night time, and you may examine the National Weather Service’s graphical forecast for a extra particular prediction. (Click on on the hyperlink for “Sky Cowl.”)

For those who’re clouded out on Sunday, you’ll be able to nonetheless get into the supermoon spirit on Sunday with streaming video from the Virtual Telescope Project or the Slooh online observatory. You’ll have one other likelihood to see a supermoon on Jan. 1, which marks the brightest full moon of 2018. And prepare for a total lunar eclipse on Jan. 31. That’ll be a tremendous moon, even by Neil deGrasse Tyson’s requirements.

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