Come May 5th, we’re all going to get to experience what’s been dubbed a “super moon.”
“You’d expect it to wear a blue suit with a shield on the front that has an ‘SM’ logo,” says Derek Pitts, chief astronomer at the Franklin Institute. “But, in truth, it’s an occurrence caused by a combination of things—a full moon and a parogee—that happen about once a year.”
Pitts explains that the orbit of the moon is elliptical, which means it’s closer to the Earth at some points than others. The point at which it’s closest to the Earth is called parogee. When the moon’s parogee matches up with a full moon in the lunar cycle, we get a “super moon.”
But what does “super moon” actually mean?
“The moon will be a 150 percent closer to earth, the continents will drift apart, the polar ice caps will melt and it will be the end of the world as we know it,” jokes Pitts. Before I had a chance to stock up on AAs and hire a contractor to build me a bunker, Pitts set me straight.
“Most people don’t realize, but the moon will appear 14 percent larger in the sky and will look 25 to 30 percent brighter,” he says.
Even though the moon will be larger and brighter, some people may find the difference difficult to notice. Pitts notes that it’ll be easier for people to see when the moon is near the horizon.
“The thing I really love is that the brain plays some sort of trick on us to make the moon seem larger at the point of horizon,” he says. “There’s something about the brain and seeing the moon near objects of known size.”
What about werewolves and vampires and general insanity? There are plenty of myths about increased hospital admissions and crime rates during full moons. Does a “super moon” mean everybody is going to freak out? Pitts doesn’t think so.
“The fact of the matter is that the moon is full every day. The gravitational pull of the moon stays the same. There are slight changes based on its place in orbit—because of the elliptical path—but nothing that would actually affect people,” Pitts says. “Though it would be a convenient excuse. ‘I’m sorry, Your Honor, but I didn’t rob that bank. The moon made me do it.'”
As for which city locations would be best to take in the “super moon,” Pitts recommends spots near notable landmarks and views to the east.
“Belmont Plateau would be great. That would be really good. The other place is, if you’re out at Penn’s Landing looking out over Camden taking the moon up over the river and the bridges.”