(NEW YORK POST) – As the world copes with the devastating impact of the coronavirus pandemic, we can all count on the moon to help us see the bright side — literally — during these dark times.
No matter if you live in the city or country, “the best thing about a full moon is that it is bright [thus] easy to see,” American Museum of Natural History astronomer Jackie Faherty tells The Post.
Our shared time of social distancing and isolation is “an excellent opportunity to reacquaint ourselves with the cosmos,” Faherty says. “The stars are out at night waiting to be discovered. The moon is our celestial partner that can be studied.”
She touts citizen scientist forums, such as her own — Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 — which encourages citizen scientists (that’s you!) “to help [astronomers] explore the reaches of the solar neighborhood for previously missed objects,” such as planets, undiscovered stars and the difficult to spot brown dwarf, also called “failed stars” because they couldn’t maintain the hydrogen fusion required to make a full-fledged star.
And — what luck! — 2020’s second super moon is rising Tuesday, and Faherty has all the answers on why April’s “pink” full moon is going to be the best and brightest of the year.
What is a ‘super pink moon’?
For all of those hoping on a “Millennial pink” moon — keep dreaming.
“The name has nothing to do with what the moon will actually be doing,” says Faherty. “So, to deflate everyone’s hope for just a moment, the moon won’t turn pink.”
The annual moon moniker was coined by the Farmer’s Almanac, and inspired by Native American traditions. Faherty explains that moss phlox, a North American wildflower, served as a harbinger for the season, “blooming in beautiful pink colors” during April. “They are one of the earliest widespread flowers of the spring,” she says.
It shouldn’t be a bummer that the moon will show its usual bright golden hue. This one promises to be possibly the most spectacular full moon of the year, thanks to the elliptical lunar orbit, which places this month’s full moon at its closest point to Earth than any other full moon this year.
When is this year’s pink moon?
This year’s pink moon will become visible just after 7 p.m., Tuesday, and continue for about 12 hours. But Faherty recommends you look to the skies just after sunset Tuesday — calling the moonrise and moonset “the most under-appreciated astronomical phenomena” in which anyone can take part.
“Catching the moon as it passes your local landscape can be dramatic and simply gorgeous,” and “perfectly safe” to watch with unblinking eyes, she says. “I encourage everyone to get themselves set up about an hour before sunset with loved ones — and maybe a glass of their current favorite beverage — and watch the super moon rise above your horizon,” in the opposite direction of the sun (that’s East), she says.
Why is the pink moon the brightest?
A super moon occurs when a full moon “is near its closest point to the Earth,” says Faherty, called a perigee-syzygy moon, in astronomical terms. Here, perigee refers to the close distance, while syzygy denotes the alignment of the sun, moon and Earth — creating a full moon. And Tuesday’s super moon will be a mere 221,772 miles from Earth — which is about 30,000 miles closer than last month’s super moon, and only a few hundred miles further than the closest super moon in recent history, in November 2016.
“Only an extremely well-trained moon gazer’s eye can ascertain the difference in brightness though,” Faherty says, and urges wannabe hobby-astronomers to “consider this an invitation to start observing the moon and becoming a lunar expert.”
When is the next super moon?
Loosely defined by astrologer Richard Nolle — and the pseudoscience that gave us the zodiac calendar — a “super moon” is one that “[has] to be at or close to 90% of its closest approach” to Earth, according to Faherty, which happens only a few times a year. Last year was a rarity with a super moon-lunar eclipse combo in January; 2020 has just two — one of which happened in March.
Because a super moon is “not a well-defined ‘astronomical phenomenon,’ ” says Faherty, there can be some disagreement between sky watchers on which full moons constitute a super moon. However, astronomers know that next year the full moon will reach perigee — its closest brush with Earth — on April 27.
When is the next full moon in 2020?
Next month’s full moon, the flower moon, will take place May 7.