Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search


Supermoon, earth-grazing meteors, spring midpoint, and Cinco de Mayo: Okay, it’s officially a party!

The brightest, biggest moon of the year will grace an evening that offers lots to celebrate, including the midpoint of spring and Cinco de Mayo. The only downside may be that the supermoon will make earth-grazing fireballs from the Aquarid meteor shower harder to see.

By Patrik JonssonStaff writer / May 5, 2012

A full moon rises behind the Empire State Building in New York. The biggest and brightest full moon of the year arrives Saturday night as our celestial neighbor passes closer to Earth than usual.

Julio Cortez/AP

Enlarge

ATLANTA

The confluence of a “supermoon,” the midpoint of spring, a meteor rain, and celebration of Cinco de Mayo will likely make Saturday night memorable for many Americans, especially star-gazers, revelers, and romantics.

Skip to next paragraph

The so-called “supermoon,” where a full moon coincides with the stellar body’s perigee, or closest point to earth, is one of the year’s astronomical highlights. While the actual full moon will occur at 11:35, followed by the perigee 25 minutes later, the time to take a look outside is actually around moon rise, which will occur around 7:30 EST. That’s when the moon will appear impossibly large as a result of a little known phenomenon where the celestial body is magnified near the horizon.

Astrologer Richard Nolle, who coined the term “supermoon” in 1979, has described the phenomenon as “a new or full moon which occurs with the Moon at or near its closest approach to Earth in a given orbit. In short, Earth, Moon and Sun are all in a line, with Moon in its nearest approach to Earth.” Scientists have sniffed at the breezy term, preferring instead the snoozier perigee-syzygy.

IN PICTURES: We love the moon

A few hours after the moon squeezes close at a distance of only 221,802 miles, astronomers are expecting the tailings from Halley’s comet, known as the Aquarid meteor shower, to rain down, though the bright moon may make the lightning fast sky-streaks harder to see. At its pre-dawn high point, the Aquarid could be shooting 60 to 70 meteors an hour into the earth’s atmosphere, including some “earth-grazers,” or meteors that streak across the sky, parallel to the horizon.

While clouds will obscure sky-gazing in the mid-Atlantic and parts of the Midwest, New England, the Great Lakes region and western states, especially, are in for a clear evening to watch the mega-orb rise above the horizon, appearing most dramatic as it hovers just over mountaintops and skylines. At its biggest, the moon will seem 30 percent brighter and 14 percent bigger than a normal full moon as it exerts some of its heaviest influence of the year on tides and (maybe, if you’re lucky) romantic aspirations.

Besides marking Cinco de Mayo, one of America’s most festive non-official holidays, Saturday also features the mid-point of spring, the exact moment between the March equinox and the June solstice. That will occur at 10:11 a.m. EST.

So, a moon like a pizza pie, the promise of summer in the air, meteor tailings streaking across the sky, and celebrating the memory of a ragtag Mexican Army that squashed the well-trained French at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862 – it really should be a fantastic evening.

IN PICTURES: We love the moon

Permissions

Read Comments

View reader comments | Comment on this story

  • Weekly review of global news and ideas
  • Balanced, insightful and trustworthy
  • Subscribe in print or digital

Special Offer

 

Editors' picks

Doing Good

 

What happens when ordinary people decide to pay it forward? Extraordinary change...

Danny Bent poses at the starting line of the Boston Marathon in Hopkinton, Mass.

After the Boston Marathon bombings, Danny Bent took on a cross-country challenge

The athlete-adventurer co-founded a relay run called One Run for Boston that started in Los Angeles and ended at the marathon finish line to raise funds for victims.

 
 
Become a fan! Follow us! Google+ YouTube See our feeds!