Keep your prayers up and your fingers crossed for a cloudless sky tonight, because it’s Australia’s third and final chance of the year to see a rare ‘supermoon’ in the night sky.
After one in October, and another in November (the biggest in a century) that was sadly covered over by clouds in many parts of Sydney, tonight’s supermoon should be visible to Sydneysiders. Clear skies and balmy weather have been forecast.
Raelene Sommer, the astronomy educator at Western Sydney University’s Penrith Observatory, told Hope 103.2 that a supermoon happens when the full moon phase coincides with the moon being as close as possible to Earth.
“The distance [between Earth and the moon] varies a little bit,” Raelene said. “The orbit of the moon around earth is not perfectly circular, so there’s a period of time when it’s a little closer.”
Supermoon isn’t actually an official scientific term; astronomers call it a ‘perigree’ moon.
Best Time to Catch Tonight’s Supermoon
Tonight’s supermoon will appear 12 to 14 percent bigger to the human eye than usual, and 25 to 30 per cent brighter. The best time to catch it is when it first begins to rise from the horizon.
“Tonight [the moon rise] should be happening at about 7pm,” Raelene said. “There is this effect where, as the moon rises from the horizon, it looks significantly bigger. So that – combined with being a supermoon – means you get this pretty spectacular view of the moon as it comes up.”
“The moon is so big and bright, that through a telescope it’s almost blinding.”
The best way to view the moon is with the eyes; there’s no need to drive to your stargazing friend’s house and line up for a squiz through their telescope.
“A telescope is sort of wasted,” said Raelene. “The moon is so big and bright, that through a telescope it’s almost blinding.”
While November 14’s supermoon was very visible in Perth, and was enjoyed by many Ausrtalians, some detractors on social media considered it a let-down. But Raelene suggests they may have had fanciful ideas of what a supermoon looks like.
“Perhaps they had unrealistic expectations of what was going to happen,” she said. “It’s not going to be 10 times bigger!”
Effects on Nature and Humans
Many effects have been reported from full moons and supermoons; some real and some mythical. The tidal pull from the gravity of the moon is definitely going to be slightly greater, and some animals tend to be more restless because of the extra brightness of the night sky.
But Raelene says that stories of the effects on human behaviour tend to be exaggerated.
“There isn’t any real scientific evidence to show that there is a major effect on people or behaviour with a full moon,” she said. “But there’s lots of people I’ve met that disagree with that!”
Spiritual and Religious Beliefs Around the Moon
According to the Ancient Origins website, ancient civilisations have for centuries placed great significance on the moon, including the ancient Assyrians and Chinese, who linked the moon with fertility and reproduction, and Polynesians who saw it as a symbol of creation.
Spiritualists today tend to take a great interest in supermoons – “there are some pagan style rituals and so on that happen with moons and solstices,” says Raelene.
In Mexico, the ancient Aztecs believed the moon was a destructive force that hunted out victims in the night, and the myth of the werewolf that comes to life during a full moon has a strong hold in pop culture today.
Today, scientists sees these myths as ancient peoples’ way of interpreting cosmological events that they didn’t fully understand.
A major cosmological phenomenon is believed by Christians to have appeared at the time of Jesus’ birth.
“You can imagine years ago when humans didn’t really have a good understanding of what was happening, that these strange things that might occur like lunar and solar eclipses and supermoons and things might have actually been a little scary,” Raelene told Hope 103.2. “They would have probably developed stories around what they could have thought was happening.”
Many religious people also place significance on cosmological events, including Buddhists, who have a high regard for full moon days, when the Buddha was said to have been born.
Some Christians with a bent for end times prophesy also have a fascination for the moon, linking world events and the end of the world to supermoons, blood moons, black moons and more.
And a major cosmological phenomenon is believed by Christians to have appeared in the sky at the time of Jesus’ birth: the Star of Bethlehem. The story of the star is debated by scientists, but some believe it may have actually been an aligning of the sun with three planets: Earth, Jupiter and Saturn.