Look for a bigger, brighter moon tonight

  • Thu May 3rd, 2012 2:34pm
  • Life

By Mike Lynch

To get closer to the moon I’m not asking you to crawl up on the highest building you can get to. Actually you can keep your feet firmly planted on the ground and let the old moon do all the work.

This weekend is the closest full moon we’ve had in more than a year, and the closest one will have until 2014. Our lunar neighbor is just over 221,800 miles away and that’ll make for a super bright and big full moon.

It’ll be 7 percent larger than an average full moon and about 14 percent brighter.

The reason for this ultimate full moon is that the moon is in the right place at right time. Because the moon’s orbit around Earth is an ovalish ellipse, it orbits Earth every 27.3 days, and its distance from Earth varies by more than 30,000 miles.

It can be as far away as 252,000 miles at what’s called apogee, and as close as 222,000 miles at a point called perigee.

Saturday night the moon is almost at perigee. Look for it this coming week when it’s just coming up in the east around sunset, because the full moon always seems much larger when it’s rising than it does when it’s higher in the sky.

This weekend that optical illusion will be even more extreme. You can prove that this is an optical illusion by a number of methods. Just take any pencil with an eraser and hold the eraser end of the pencil at arm’s length against the moon when it’s first on the rise. Make a mental note as to how much of the moon is covered up by the eraser.

Then go out two to three hours later when the moon seems smaller and hold the pencil eraser at arm’s length once again and you’ll see without a doubt that the pencil eraser covers exactly the same amount of the moon’s disk.

It all has to do with the your frame of reference. When the moon is low in the sky you’re framing it against trees, buildings, the ground or water surface, which makes it look bigger. This actually has an effect on other celestial objects like constellations that also appear larger near the horizon.

Now if you can bend like a pretzel this effect goes away. This is no joke. If you can face away from the moon, bend over and look at the moon between your legs when it’s close to the horizon the “big moon” goes away.

There is no doubt the moon has an effect on people. You’ve all heard about madness blamed on a full moon. I have to believe that that’s 80 percent to 90 percent myth, however there may be a few seeds of truth to it.

For sure the full moon has a big effect on global tides as oceans are pulled on opposite sides of Earth by the sun and the full moon. That effect is amplified whenever the full moon is near perigee because the moon has a slightly more gravitational pull.

Since most of our bodies are made of water maybe there’s a tiny tidal effect on us that effects some people more than others.

While the full moon is closer than usual, take the opportunity for a closer look at it. I wouldn’t recommend using a powerful telescope unless you’re in the mood for a major headache. A smaller telescope or binoculars are just fine.

The dark areas on the moon are the relatively flat lunar plains although they’re littered by craters, big and small. They originated because of massive volcanic flows that welled up from the active lunar core.

Before the days of telescopes these “flatlands” were thought be bodies of water and that’s why they bear names like the Sea of Tranquility or the Ocean of Storms. The whiter areas are the lunar highlands and mountains.

Mike Lynch is an astronomer and professional broadcast meteorologist for WCCO Radio in Minneapolis and is author of the book, “Washington Starwatch,” available at bookstores. Check his website, www.lynchandthestars.com.

The Everett Astronomical Society: www.everettastro.org.

Get ready for solar eclipse

On May 20 there’s going to be a solar eclipse. To get a good view of it you can order a special, safe pair of solar classes that allow your to watch the eclipse without damaging your vision. You can also use them to watch the transit of Venus across the sun on June 5, something we’ll never see in our lifetimes again. Order by May 11 to get the glasses in time for these events. They’re only $2 a pair and available online at tropicalsails.com/Eclipse_Glasses.php.