Second of three ‘supermoons’ wows stargazers

The view of the supermoon from Ahukini Landing, Kauai, on August 10, 2014. (Photo: Ronessa Yamase)
The view of the supermoon from Ahukini Landing, Kauai, on August 10, 2014. (Photo: Ronessa Yamase)

The second of three special full moons this year occurred Sunday night. The first happened on July 12 and the last will occur on Sept. 8.

Sunday’s supermoon rose at 7:12 p.m.

Because our celestial neighbor is relatively close to Earth, these full moons will appear to be unusually large. That distance varies because the moon follows an elliptical orbit. When it’s close and full, it appears bigger and brighter than normal, although the difference can be hard to detect.

“The full moons for these … evenings will be a little bit larger than an average full moon in the sky, since the full moons occur when the moon is close to its closest point to Earth as it orbits our planet,” said Mike Shanahan, Director of Visitor Experience and Planetarium at Bishop Museum, back in July.

Click here for more supermoon shots from around the world.
Photo Gallery: Supermoon shots from around the world

The scientific name for the phenomenon is called “perigee moon,” which refers to the path the moon follows around Earth.

While the moon can be somewhat bigger and brighter due to its proximity, don’t expect an earth-shattering visual. Brightness can easily be masked by clouds and haze, scientists say.

“The difference is fairly subtle,” Shanahan said. “There is a certainly a little element of hype to the whole ‘supermoon’ concept, though I’m all for getting people out and observing the night sky whenever they can.”

What may be more impressive is a supermoon that’s close to the horizon.

Also known as a “moon illusion,” low-hanging moons can look unnaturally large and should be even larger during a supermoon. NASA says scientists and psychologists can’t explain exactly how or why the illusion occurs.

Click here for NASA’s article on this year’s supermoons.

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