Last night’s super-moon was the biggest and brightest super-moon to rise in almost 69 years and we won’t see its like again until Nov. 25, 2034. Here it is in all its super glory conveniently located at the top of my street.
Just how Super was this moon? Not very super at all really, not even marginally awesome, in fact it really wasn’t much different from any full moon you have ever seen and if it weren’t for all the hype, it is doubtful that anyone would have even noticed it.
Super-moon is the term used by the media to describe a full moon when it is at its closest point to the Earth. This is called the perigee.
The moon’s closest perigee occurred on November 14, 2016 when the moon was a mere 356,509 km from earth. The moon’s farthest apogee occurred two weeks earlier on October 31, 2016 when it was 406,662 km away.
That’s a difference of about 50,000 km between the distance to the moon at perigee compared with its distance at apogee.
The moon’s mean distance or semi-major axis from Earth is about 384,400 km or about 28,000 km less that at perigee which is a difference of less than 8%.
Look at the pair of photos above. One image was taken at a distance of 20 m from the stop sign while the other image was taken from 8% further away at 21.8 m. The difference in perceived diameter of the stop sign from one image to the other is the same as the difference in perceived size of a super-moon compared with an average full moon.
The second pair of images were taken with a longer focal length lens but otherwise met the same distance conditions.
Put in in pizza terms, its like a comparing a 16.0 inch pizza to a 17 inch pizza.
The wonder of the moon is not in how its size appears to vary slightly from time to time. The wonder of the moon is that there are footprints on its surface. Footprints made by a few brave Americans who were propelled there by rockets designed by Germans and guided by mathematics developed by Frenchmen, the Dutch and Danes and a bad tempered Englishman who stood on the shoulders of Greek and Arabic speaking giants. That is the wonder of the moon, the glorious culmination of a collaboration spanning space and time. Celebrate that while tucking into a 16 or 17 inch pizza.