Today in our light-polluted world, we rarely look up at the sky and admire the beauty of its rich darkness. Events like supermoon, blood moon and total lunar and solar eclipses are perfect opportunities to gaze up away from our screens. The social media is all hyped about this event, so why not you?
What is a Supermoon?
A supermoon is an unofficial term referring to the phase of the moon when it’s closest to earth. The official astronomical term for Supermoon is Perigee-syzygy (pronounced as peh-ri-gee and sys-suh-gee respectively). Perigee is derived from Greek and roughly translates as “close to the earth.” Its antonym is Apogee (ae-poh-gee) means “farther away.”
The moon orbits the earth in an elliptical path. We see a full moon when the earth is between the sun and the moon. Likewise, we can’t see the moon (called New Moon) when the moon is in the middle of the sun and earth. Transitional phases of the moon (crescent, gibbous, etc) from these two positions happen in a cycle, called as Lunar Cycle. Keeping all the astronomy aside, let’s get straight to the point why a full moon is called the supermoon.
A Supermoon, technically known as a perigee full moon is when the moon comes within 360,000 kilometers of the Earth, with distances measured from the centers of both the heavenly bodies.
When the moon is within 360,000 kilometers away from the center of Earth, it is known as Supermoon. Similarly, when it is 400,000 kilometers away, it is called the Micro Moon. Bloodmoon is quite similar to the supermoon except for the fact that it occurs during a lunar eclipse. Before trying to understand Bloodmoon we need to know Total Lunar Eclipse and Umbra first.
What is a Bloodmoon? How is a Bloodmoon formed?
A Total Lunar Eclipse occurs when the moon passes behind the earth into its innermost and darkest part of the shadow, the Umbra. A lunar eclipse can be viewed from any night side of the earth and lasts for a few hours, unlike solar eclipses.
During the total lunar eclipse, the sun’s light is being blocked directly by the Earth. The only light there is being refracted through Earth’s shadow. The reddish-brown color of the moon is caused by the same phenomena that cause red sunsets. The phenomenon is known as The Rayleigh Scattering Effect (See Ray Theory for a deeper explanation). And the enlarged red moon is popularly known as Bloodmoon.
Supermoon during winter is larger than Supermoon occurring during the rest of the year due to Sun’s additional pull on the moon towards the earth. They look almost 7% larger and 30% brighter.
What will happen if the moon comes this close?
Eclipses and other interesting phenomena have always fascinated our consciousness. It’s not surprising that today’s Supermoon is being marooned with Earth’s doom or as a warning sign of an apocalypse. The proximity of the Moon and Sun’s additional tug increases the tectonic activity. But they are subtle to trigger any natural disaster.
Due to the moon’s increased proximity to the earth, we will get to see stronger tidal forces in action. The tides will sweep the shoreline further back during low tide and push it more inwards during the high tide. If weather conditions are severe, these supermoons can also cause storms and rough seas.
Other than such naturally occurring phenomena, different cultures have myths and taboos linked with such events. They can be good omens, bad omens, signs of some impending doom and source of prophecies. Supermoons, definitely do not account for weird activities of neighbors, crazy people, UFO sightings and werewolf apocalypse.
How do I capture this historical moment? With just a smartphone?
We have all tried to click the night sky pictures before and failed. There is no way our smartphones can capture low light images with decent details. The pictures turn out to be grainy, and the moon looks more like a dot of light in the sky. If you are fortunate enough to afford a telephoto lens or a standard zoom lens (300mm) and a DSLR, you can capture amazing shots with subtle details like these pictures.
But if you don’t have any of these fancy equipment, you can still capture decent images with just your smartphone. All you have to do is change your ISO setting from “Auto” to 100. Also, use HDR mode, if your camera doesn’t have that by default, you can download an external app which changes the HDR settings dynamically for you. It is advisable to use a tripod or a stand to keep the device very still as the image will be captured during a long exposure.
How do I watch it live?
The best way to experience the supermoon is to look at it yourself at your local regional timings in a wide-open area, preferably a rooftop or a terrace. Since its a “super” supermoon, you won’t find it difficult to locate it in the night sky. The view will be the best in rural areas or outskirts of the city where light pollution is the least.
But if by any chance you happen to miss the opportunity to watch it by yourself, you can still watch it online through live webcasts by NASA and other night sky watching communities like this one: