On Monday, November 14, 2016, the proverbial man in the moon was in the company of about 200 park-goers as they hiked, sipped hot chocolate, and peered through telescopes during the Super Moon Night Hike at The Parklands. Interpretive Rangers Whit, Curtis, and Shannon led hikers along Black Willow trail to observe the night using our human senses. Several people from the Louisville Astronomical Society set up their telescopes and guided curious eyes skyward, while Highview Baptist Church provided (the best) hot chocolate.
The supermoon is a fascinating astronomical occurrence. But before we talk super, let’s back up to get everyone on the same page. Because of a variety of gravitational pulls, the moon’s orbit around earth is not a perfect circle, causing the distance between our planet and our nearest neighbor to vary. One face of the moon is always illuminated by the sun, and as the moon orbits around the earth we slowly see more and more of this illuminated face, until it becomes the complete glowing white circle we call the full moon. Then it begins to wane, slowly disappearing until once again the illuminated surface is facing the sun, and the surface facing earth is dark; we call this the new moon.
Now let’s layer on some more info. As the moon’s orbit changes, the moon moves closer to or farther from the earth. When the moon is farthest from earth, it is at its ‘apogee’; when it is closest, it is at its ‘perigee’.
Hike participants pause to enjoy the view. Photo by John Nation
So, perigee, apogee. New moon, full moon. What does it all mean? The supermoon is when the moon is both at its perigee AND full at the SAME TIME. On November 16, we earthlings experienced the closest full moon since 1948. If you missed this month’s astronomical awesomeness, a smaller supermoon will appear in December, but your next chance for a truly super supermoon viewing will be November 25, 2034.
Mark your calendars!