It was one of those things that had been hyped so much through social media that in the end it became a phenomena unto itself.
And, while I had never really heard the term “supermoon” prior to its occurrence on the night of Nov. 13 (and in the early morning hours of the 14th), I have to admit I was among the countless people who ventured outside to take a look.
Sunday evening was overcast and I saw nothing. Astronomical occurrences are a crapshoot at best. I went back into the house and made myself a late-night toasted chicken sandwich on multigrain bread, with lettuce, lots of mayo and sprinkled with ground peppercorns and grated parmesan cheese. The following evening, the cloud cover broke just long enough to catch a glimpse but, to tell the truth, the moon looked pretty much like any other full moon that I’ve ever seen.
According to various sources (on the Internet), the Moon’s distance varies each month between approximately 357,000 kilometers and 406,000 km due to its elliptical orbit around the Earth (distances given are centre-to-centre).
The full moon cycle is the period between alignments of the lunar perigee with the sun and the earth, which is about 13.9443 synodic months (about 411.8 days). Thus, approximately every 14th full moon will be a supermoon. However, halfway through the cycle, the full moon will be close to apogee, and the new moons immediately before and after can be supermoons. Consequently, there may be as many as three supermoons per full moon cycle.
Essentially, a supermoon is a full moon or new moon that passes close to the Earth on its elliptical orbit, resulting in the moon appearing larger than normal.
The term supermoon was coined by astrologer (not astronomer) Richard Nolle in 1979. The more scientific name is the perigee-syzygy of the Earth-Moon-Sun system.
The opposite phenomenon, an apogee-syzygy, has been referred to as a micro-moon, although the term is not as widely used as supermoon.
Occasionally, a supermoon coincides with a total lunar eclipse. The most recent occurrence of this was on Sept. 27 and 28, 2015, while the next time will be 2033.
I was never very good at math, so maybe there is something to be said for social media. I probably would not have gone outside to look at the Sunday night’s supermoon had it not been for the hype on Facebook and elsewhere on the Internet.
In a statement to the press, Royal Astronomical Society of Canada executive director Randy Atrwood said, “Astronomically, it’s not much of an event at all. The moon gets a little bit closer sometimes, and a little bit farther away. The moon’s orbit is not circular, so every month there is a point where it’s about 350,000 km away, and at other times its about 400,000 km away.”
Attwood also suggested that it is the media that’s largely responsible for hyping up lunar events with catchy names such as supermoon, blue moon and last year’s super blood moon (a supermoon combined with an eclipse). He says “the only positive is that supermoons can get people out looking at the moon – which still seems to hold some earthlings in its thrall.”
I know that I’m one of them.
I have always been fascinated with the moon. Even as a kid I remember looking up at the moon and feeling a sense of wonder. I have peered at it through binoculars, telescopes and telephoto lenses. I have looked at it as it hovered above prairie landscapes and mountain lakes. I have walked home by its light and remembered how envious I felt on July 20, 1969, when astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first human to set foot on the moon.
The thing is, each and every time that I have looked up at the moon, I have considered it a super moon and, while Sunday night’s supermoon didn’t live up to the hype, my toasted chicken sandwich was pretty darned good.