Utah Science
6:16 pm
Fri July 11, 2014

Just How Super Is A Super Moon?

 You might have recently heard the term “super moon” thrown around. These moons seem to be in vogue with the media because of their size and brightness; but are the super moons really that special? NASA Ambassador Patrick Wiggins doesn’t think we should get our hopes up.

There will be three super full moons in the next few months, but whether or not you'll be able to tell is a different story.
Credit NASA

“Don’t expect them to look that much different than a regular full moon,” Wiggins cautions.

So what makes a super moon? Well, the moon orbits the earth in an elliptical fashion, meaning its orbit isn’t completely circular.

“There’s parts of it that are closer and there’s parts of it that are farther away,” Wiggins explains.

At some points on its ovular trip around our fair planet, the moon is 50,000 km closer than at its farthest point. This close point is called the perigee.

“If we just happen to have the moon closest at the same time that it’s full, some people have taken to calling it a super moon.”

Super moons can be 14 percent larger than average and 30 percent brighter. But, as Wiggins says, 14 percent isn’t that big of a difference, and distinguishing a normal moon and a super moon may be more difficult than a lot of the hype makes it out to be.

“The so called super moon is a little closer and it’s a little bigger and a little brighter, but to the normal person just walking down the street? I really don’t think they’d notice the difference,” Wiggins said.

If you think you can tell the difference, you’re in luck. Super moons are everywhere this summer. According to NASA, perigee moons happen every 13 months or so; however, the next three full moons this year are considered super.

The full moons on July 12 and Sept. 9 will fall on the same day as our planet’s silver satellite passes the perigee point. Aug. tenth’s moon will become full within one hour of passing the near-earth point, making it possibly more spectacular—if you can tell the difference. If you can’t, Wiggins says you can always howl at the moon.