Full Moon – Extra Large

The Moon-gazers among us are in for something of a treat this weekend. The Moon will be at perigee, its closest position to the Earth, at the same time (within mere minutes) as it turns full. This makes it noticeably larger and brighter than any other full moons, about 14% bigger and 30% brighter than at the other end of the scale, at apogee or its farthest point from the Earth.

Example news article on the subject:

The article says “Saturday”, but that is because it is written by and for Americans who live in their own little universe of, among other things, time zones.

A closer examination of lunar schedules reveals that the full moon will occur on Sunday morning at 3:35AM GMT. Since GMT doesn’t follow Daylight Saving Time, this means 4:35AM for anyone residing on the British isles, and 5:35AM (or just 05:35, as we like to call it) for me and the rest of Norway and Central Europe.

Consider for a moment the likelihood that I will find myself outside and gazing wide-eyed and open-mouthed at the Moon at half past five on a Sunday morning. The odds are not exactly astronomical in favour, especially since, at that time and in these parts, the Moon will find itself a good five degrees below the horizon, as it sets some forty-five minutes previously.

People in Western Europe may be on the slightly luckier end. For observers in the vicinity of, say, London, at the magical local time of 4:35am, the Moon turns full while still a good four degrees above the horizon, about forty-five minutes before it sets. That is, as long as no obstacles get in the way, the way that hills, trees and buildings often do for the sole purpose of frustrating the casual observer of celestial phenomena.

A safer bet would perhaps be, in most if not all of Europe, to gaze admiringly upon the Moon at the stroke of midnight, or whatever late hour one’s bedtime schedule or the lack thereof may allow, and appreciate the display safe in the knowledge that the difference in size and brightness from what is to come mere hours later is negligible. The upside to such an early and otherwise slightly if admissible premature observation is that one can retire to the safety of the indoors and well before the werewolves come out to play.

Watching a set of “before” and “after” photographs, the difference is rather obvious even if it’s not overly dramatic. A comprehensible graphic is to be found here:

As to whether one will actually notice the increased size and brightness as compared to other full moons, this will be entirely individual. The transition is gradual; with twelve full moons over the course of a year, ranging from farthest to closest and back again, each successive full moon will have grown or shrunk since the previous one by a factor of, on average, approximately one sixth of the full difference. That, with the gradual day-to-day vaxing and waning of the Moon as it progresses through its orbit, it will be hard for most people, other than perhaps the most dedicated observers with years of intense experience, to spot any real difference at all. Most of the “ooh” and “aah” for casual admirers such as you and me will be based purely on the psychological phenomenon of suggestion in the sense that, had we not been told beforehand, we probably wouldn’t have noticed anyway. You should however not let that in any way deter from the awe of the moment:

Size comparison between Pluto, dwarf-planet Xena, and our Moon:

We are watching a world, our nearest neighbour in space, a solid body of rock and dust, almost large enough to have been considered a planet in its own right had it been on its own. Considerably larger, in fact, than Pluto, which was only recently demoted to dwarf-planet status. It doesn’t carry life itself, but its influence on the the oceans has helped shaping Earth life from its feeble beginning, not to mention its imprint on all the different civilizations on Earth throughout Human history. It is certainly worthy of occasional moments of awe-struck admiration.

If the weather allows, of course.


5 thoughts on “Full Moon – Extra Large

    1. Notice that I said “Size comparison between Pluto, dwarf-planet Xena, and our Moon”, not “dwarf-planets Pluto and Xena, and our Moon” 😉

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