If you thought the moon looked bigger and brighter than usual this past weekend, you were right.
The moon reached the perigee state — when the moon is at its closest point to Earth — in nearly 70 years at 8:52 a.m. this morning.
In fact, if you were born after 1948, the moon is currently closer to earth than ever before during your lifetime, and will continue to appear larger than normal over the next few days.
Justin Mason, astronomer and director of Pretlow Planetarium at Old Dominion University, explained what makes this supermoon so rare during an interview with Southside Daily.
“The moon has an elliptical orbit, meaning that its distance to earth changes over time,” he said. “Tonight, the moon is 30,000 miles closer to earth than its furthest point away. As a result, the moon appears up to 14 percent bigger and 30 percent brighter than usual.”
Mason, who earned a masters in physics from Ball State University and a masters in astronomy from Indiana University, plans to hold a discussion about the supermoon tonight at ODU’s Pretlow Planetarium if the sky is clear.
After the discussion, and a presentation about the Orion star constellation, Mason hopes to head outdoors with some telescopes to view the moon up close. The moon’s proximity to earth makes lunar craters and surface textures much more visible.
The perigee of the moon also causes tides to rise, affecting flood-prone coastal regions like Virginia Beach.
“Supermoons like this one cause king tides, which will swell up higher on the beach than usual,” explained Mason.
“We have to pay attention in areas that are susceptible to flooding, especially when it coincides with inclement weather,” he said. “In our case, the tides already peaked this past Saturday.”
For those interested in watching the moon during perigee, Virginia Beach has several optimal viewing points, including Mount Trashmore and the coast.
“One of the best places is down at the oceanfront, where you can watch the moon come up right around sunset,” said Mason. “Or, if you want to watch from a darker spot, visit Pungo, which has a lot less light pollution.”
For more information on the moon phases and rising times in Virginia Beach visit https://www.timeanddate.com/moon/usa/virginia-beach
Pohl may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org