After a week of tension and angst over the presidential election, let's focus our attention on something out of this world. Literally.
On Monday, the moon will be the closest it has been to Earth since 1948. That's longer than many of us have been alive. As long as clouds aren't blocking the view, the supermoon is going to be a pretty incredible sight to see. Indeed, it's something you and your kids should experience together, because witnessing incredible things is always better with the people you love most.
So what would you like to know aout the so-called supermoon? We have everything you need to know right here, both so you are ready for the once-or-twice-in-a-lifetime-event, but also so you can sound really smart when you tell your kids about it.
1. What is a supermoon?
It's a phenomenon that happens when a full moon coincides with the moon being the closest it gets to the Earth on its orbit (in astronomy terms, when the moon is at its perigee). On Monday, the moon will appear 14 percent larger and 30 percent brighter than it normally does.
The term "supermoon" first came about rather recently in astrological circles, so the scientific term is actually "perigee full moon." But "supermoon" sounds way cooler, so we'll stick with that.
2. What is a full moon?
While we're on the subject, we suppose you might not know exactly why there's a full moon to begin with. Why does the moon have "phases?" It's pretty simple: depending upon the position of the moon with respect to the earth and sun, different amounts of the moon are illuminated as seen from Earth.
During the full moon, all of the Moon is in direct sunlight. As the moon revolves around the Earth, parts of it go into shadow.
3. Why are supermoons a thing?
Simply put, because Earth is isn't always centered within the moon's orbit. The moon orbits the earth in an ellipse, so sometimes the moon is somewhat closer to Earth and sometimes it's somewhat farther away. And a supermoon is what happens when that close approach coincides with a full moon.
Supermoons are a completely natural part of the moon's cycle, and happen only a few times a year.
4. What's so special about this one?
Not only does the moon come closest to the Earth at its perigee once a month, but thanks to the gravitational attraction of the sun, the moon's perigee varies a little each time. So some perigees are closer than others, and this one is especially close--356,500 km from Earth, as compared to the more typical 360,00-370,000 km.
5. How often does a supermoon happen?
6. When is the next time the moon will this close to Earth?
The moon won't be as close to Earth again as it will be on Monday until November 25, 2034. So if you want your kids to experience the beauty, now is the time.
7. Will it really be amazing?
Well, set your expectations appropriately. It will, as we said, be about 14% bigger. Which may be hard to notice by eye, honestly. But combine that small increase in size with the extra brightness, and it should look quite dramatic. Just don't expect it to fill the sky like the Death Star.
8. What's the best way to experience it?
The best time to view a supermoon is when the moon is low on the horizon. Why? A well-known optical illusion always makes the moon look bigger when it's low in the sky, near the horizon. So Monday morning before sunrise, as the moon is closest to Earth at 6:22 am, EST, head outside and look up.
Most people in the United States should be able to see the supermoon, but people across the Pacific Northwest may have a harder time due to cloud coverage. Really, clouds? Rude.
9. Is Monday the only time you can see the supermoon?
Not really. You've got a "buffer."
"I've been telling people to go out at night on either Sunday or Monday night to see the supermoon," said Noah Petro, deputy project scientist for NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter mission in a recent statement. "The difference in distance from one night to the next will be very subtle, so if it's cloudy on Sunday, go out on Monday. Any time after sunset should be fine."
Indeed, as long as you remember to go outside and look sometime on Sunday, Monday, or Tuesday, you'll get the supermoon experience.
Just don't forget.
Main image: Belief Net