Supermoon 2017: What is the supermoon and why does it look so big? | Science | News

The upcoming full moon is the first and only supermoon to rise in the night skies this year. 

It will rise in the afternoon hours on Sunday December 3, before setting in the morning hours on the following Monday.

But despite what its name might suggest, the supermoon does not go through any physical changes on that night.

Instead the popular term is used to quite appropriately describe the way the moon appears to swell in size over Earth.

In fact, the correct astronomical descriptor of the event is the ‘perigee-syzygy of the Earth-Moon-Sun system’. The term supermoon was coined 30 years ago by astronomer Richard Nolle.

On average, the supermoon appears to be 14 per cent larger than usual and can be up to 30 per cent brighter.

This happens because the moon’s orbit around Earth is not perfectly round, according to .

Lyle Tavernier from Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Lab explained: “Full moons can occur at any point along the Moon’s elliptical path, but when a full moon occurs at or near the perigee, it looks slightly larger and brighter than a typical full moon. 

“That’s what the term ‘supermoon’ refers to.

“Because supermoon is not an official astronomical term, there is no definition about just how close to perigee the full moon has to be in order to be called ‘super’. 

“Generally, supermoon is used to refer to a full moon 90 percent or closer to perigee.”

The perigee is the point at which the moon is at its closest to Earth. On average this is a distance of 363,300 km from the planet

When the moon hits its apogee, or its furthest point, it sits roughly 405,500 km from Earth.

Usually the moon orbits Earth at a distance of 382,900 km, though this varies throughout the year.

The result is a breathtaking astronomical spectacle, creating one of the brightest objects travelling through the night sky.

The supermoon is a perfect opportunity for amateur stargazers to point their telescopes at , or to observe it in the wild.

If you plan to head out to catch the full moon, then be sure to stay on the lookout for clear weather conditions. Places such as nature reserves and wide open fields are typically a safe bet.

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