That time has come again, but…: Why is the hype in Super Moon actually nonsense

That time has come again, but…
Why is the hype about Super Moon actually nonsense

by Kai Stubel

If the full moon is particularly close to Earth, it is called a super moon. What holds the titles is actually less exciting than the name suggests. Planetary geologist Ulrich Koehler explains to why.

He has now become a true media star, Super Moon. What is meant by this is that the moon in its orbit sometimes approaches the Earth, and sometimes is far away. After all, the orbit is not a circle but an ellipse, so it looks like an egg. The closest point to Earth is called perigee, then the moon is about 357 thousand kilometers away. If it occurs near a full moon, it is called a super moon. It seems reasonable: the closer the moon is, the larger it appears. This regularly makes headlines.

But: Can you really see a difference from other full moons with the naked eye? Ulrich Koehler, a planetary geologist at the DLR Institute for Planetary Research in Berlin-Adlershof, tells “It’s not really.” The visible difference in size between the moon closest to Earth (the supermoon) and the moon farthest from Earth at the so-called apogee (also called a micromoon) is about 14 percent. “This corresponds to the difference between a 2 euro coin and a 1 euro coin seen from a distance of 2.70 metres,” Koller says.

Of course, when these two pieces are hung next to each other on the wall, the difference in size is noticeable. But there is only one moon in the sky at a time, which makes comparison difficult. “Without a direct reference, you can’t see any difference with the naked eye,” Kohler says. After all: the brightness of a giant moon is about 30 percent greater than that of a micron. “So the eye at least has a stronger impression of brightness.”

It has nothing to do with astronomy.

However, the term Super Moon does not come from science at all, but was probably created in 1979 by a miner in the USA. However, for years the giant moon has been very popular in the media. “In astronomy, the term supermoon is irrelevant,” says Kohler. He believes that observers’ expectations also play a role in the supermoon’s great noise. “You read about the Super Moon, you look up at the sky, and the moon looks bigger.”

The effect can also be enhanced by the so-called lunar illusion: when the moon is slightly above the horizon, it appears larger to the observer. Unlike a giant moon, there is no appreciable difference in size with the moon illusion – it is just an optical illusion. There is no refraction of light or other physical reasons. It has not yet been clarified exactly why the illusion appears – one hypothesis is that the relationship between the moon and the landscape on the horizon plays a role. Similar to deceiving Ponzo.

But none of this should spoil the fun of a supermoon: after all, a full moon is always striking—whether you notice a difference in size or not. Here are the top Supermoon facts for fans:

  • On June 14 at 1:52pm CEST, the moon will reach the full moon phase — but it’s not visible, because…
  • …the moon will not rise over Germany until shortly after 10pm CEST – and then sets again at around 5am
  • On June 15, 2022 at 1:21 a.m. CST, the moon will reach its closest distance from Earth: 357.432 kilometers.
  • If you missed the super moon: on July 13, 2022 there will be the next opportunity – then the moon will be a little closer to the Earth.

The weather seems to be cooperating

But how far will the giant moon be visible? “Wednesday night is definitely the best night for stargazers in Germany,” said NTV weather expert Bjorn Alexander. Only in the northeast only moving “tighter pull”. “If you want to sit outside longer, you should take a jacket or jacket, because again it will be very cold, with a dip of 14-7 degrees.”

However, the giant moon will not pass the Earth without a trace. The closer a celestial body is, the stronger its gravity. This is also noticeable with the supermoon: the supermoon has an effect on the tidal range – that is, on how pronounced the tides are. Although this effect is measurable, it is negligible.

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