Need a break from news of the coronavirus pandemic? Or just want a change of pace by staring at the stars? Look up: The pink “supermoon” will appear Tuesday night.
The biggest, brightest supermoon of 2020, the full moon occurs precisely at 10:35 p.m. EDT on April 7, according to EarthSky.
Of the three supermoons this year, April’s supermoon will come closest to our planet – and thus appear the largest.
The supermoon comes during a trying time around the globe, as more than 1.3 million people are known to have been infected with the new coronavirus and over 78,000 killed. But the astronomical event may provide comfort to some.
“When all feels troubled on the planet, looking up invokes a sense of wonder and promise. A simple event such as a full moon that reminds people to look to the sky can be just the escape that most people need right now,” said Jackie Faherty, a senior scientist at the American Museum of Natural History’s Department of Astrophysics.
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Throughout history, cosmic signs have been assigned various meanings, Faherty said.
“Often celestial events like eclipses have be interpreted as a sign of negative things in the past, but of course there’s no reason that they are,” said Noah Petro, a Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Project Scientist at NASA.
New moons are generally associated with rebirth, and full moon names are often tied to farming, Petro said.
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“Regardless of what people saw historically, we can use this as a time to define how our generation should see astronomical phenomenon,” Faherty said. “We know that the stars do not capture any secrets about humans. But I’d love people to remember the super pink moon as something that brought their eyes to the cosmos and invoked a sense of hope during this time.”
The full moon can also be an educational opportunity for children, Faherty said. Other bright planets, including Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, will be visible this month, she said. Stars and their stories can be a great distraction, too, she said.
“Hopefully people use this as an excuse to begin looking at the moon more regularly, perhaps every night to chart its path in the sky and how its phase changes,” Petro added.
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Viewing the pink supermoon doesn’t require leaving your house.
Petro said that if you have an east, south or west facing window, you should be able to see the moon from inside.
“You don’t need a fancy telescope or other equipment, just clear skies and clear eyes,” he added.
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Faherty suggested looking for the moon at moonrise or moonset. To view, set up looking east, or the opposite direction of the sun, about an hour before sunset.
“I think a moonrise and a moonset are the most under-appreciated astronomical phenomena that can be easily viewed. Catching the moon as it passes your local landscape can be dramatic and simply gorgeous (and it’s perfectly safe to view),” she said.
Where do the terms “pink moon” and “supermoon” come from?
A supermoon occurs when the moon is especially close to Earth while it’s full. The moon’s proximity to Earth makes it look up to 14% bigger and 30% brighter than a full moon at its farthest point from Earth.
The term “supermoon” was coined in 1979 by astrologer Richard Nolle. It has become an increasingly popular and media-friendly term in the decades since then. According to NASA, it’s used by the media today to describe what astronomers would call a perigean full moon.
The full moon this month is also nicknamed the pink moon. But don’t look for a pinkish hue to the moon this month.
According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, April’s full moon often corresponded with the early springtime blooms of Phlox subulata, a pink wildflower native to eastern North America. The wildflower is commonly called creeping phlox or moss phlox – and also goes by the name “moss pink.”
For millennia, people across the world, including Native Americans, named the months after nature’s cues. The Old Farmers’ Almanac said that full moon names in our part of the world date back to the Native Americans who lived in the northern and eastern USA.
Will the moon be more visible with fewer cars on the road and airplanes in the sky due to coronavirus restrictions?
As the coronavirus pandemic also leads to economic slowdowns, that may cause less air pollution in some areas.
Reports from Italy and China have shown possible decreased fossil fuel use and air pollution emissions as a result.
“Certainly less pollution makes for clearer skies, in some places,” Petro said.
However, Faherty said: “The full moon is an easy thing to see no matter what.”
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