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Astronomy professor weighs in as supermoon makes rare appearance
1115Moon2
The supermoon appears near the Statue of Liberty, Monday, Nov. 14, 2016, in New York. Monday’s supermoon, a phenomenon that happens when the moon makes a close pass at the earth, is the closest to earth since 1948. - photo by JULIO CORTEZ

Supermoon

Distance between moon’s orbit and Earth

Average: 238,855 miles away

1948: 221,495 miles away

2016: 221,524 miles away (location on Oct. 31: 252,688 miles)

2034: Estimated it will be within 221,485 miles of Earth

Types of moon

Supermoon: When a full moon also marks its closest elliptical orbit to Earth, resulting in a larger and brighter lunar disk

Harvest moon: The full moon occurring nearest the autumnal equinox

Blue moon: An additional full moon in a season or the second full moon in a calendar month

Blood moon: The moon appears a reddish-brown color during a lunar eclipse when the Earth’s shadow blocks sunlight to the moon.

The brightest moon in almost 69 years lit up the sky in a treat for star watchers around the globe on Sunday and Monday nights, including at the North Georgia Astronomical Observatory on the University of North Georgia’s Dahlonega campus.

But did the media hype meet reality?

The moon orbits the Earth in an oval shape and is brightest this week because it is coming closer to the Earth along its elliptical orbit than at any time since January 1948.

The moon reaches “super” status when it is full during this time.

According to NASA, the moon appeared about 14 percent larger in diameter and about 30 percent brighter at its perigee (closest point to Earth) this week than when it’s at its apogee (furthest distance from the Earth).

Gregory Feiden, assistant professor of astronomy at UNG, said the best analogy to understand the difference in the moon’s appearance during this event compared with a typical night sky is this: Hold an aspirin in one hand at arm’s length, and a Tylenol in the other hand at the same distance, and determine which is larger.

But Feiden doesn’t want to rain on an otherwise happy parade.

He said that anything to get people stargazing was a positive, especially in a world whose night sky is dimmed by electrical lights, and he believes media attention of the supermoon would serve to inspire others to look to the heavens to behold a rare wonder.

The next supermoon won’t occur until 2034, when it is predicted to come within 221,485 miles of Earth (compared with 221,524 miles this year).

By comparison, the next total solar eclipse will occur in August and Mercury will transit the sun in 2019.

The supermoon reached its peak luminescence in North America before dawn on Monday.

But it was still visible Monday night, where it hit its zenith in Asia and the South Pacific and peaked across the international dateline in New Zealand after midnight Tuesday local time.

The supermoon brought stronger than usual high tides, followed by plunging low tides.

In 2034, the moon will come even closer.

According to the astronomy website earthsky.org, the term supermoon entered usage five years ago when the closest full moon fell on March 19, 2011.

Feiden said its usage has grown exponentially with the internet age, but it has closer ties to astrology than astronomy.

And so while eclipses, comets and blue moons have been interpreted across the ages by many different cultures to mean many different things, the supermoon is a relatively new phenomenon in terms of cultural attention.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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