“Once in a blue moon.” We’ve all probably heard that expression before. It refers to something that’s seldom seen and rarely happens. Maybe someone you know visits you only once in a blue moon, or maybe good luck and opportunity have a way of finding you once in a blue moon. But, have you ever thought about what a Blue Moon really is? Or why is it so special that it only comes around every now-and-then. Well, cast your blues and wonders aside, because as luck would have it, we’ll get to experience a Blue Full Moon this August. This is something that happens every two to three years, and I’m going to tell you why!
First, we’ll be graced with the first full moon of August which is called the Sturgeon Full Moon. This will appear on Tuesday, August 1st. Native Americans named this moon after a large bony fish of the Great Lakes Region, a sturgeon, which is the largest fish in North America! These fish can measure from seven to 16 feet long and can weigh 200 to 800 lbs. Amazingly, in Russia back in 1827, the largest sturgeon on record, a beluga female, weighed in at 3,463 lbs!
Not only does August have two full moons, one being a rare blue moon, but they’re both super moons too. This occurs when the moon is at its closest point to Earth during its orbit, this is called perigee. However, one super moon truly outshines all the rest. August 30th’s Blue Full Moon, at 221,942 miles away, is considered our brightest and closest moon in all of 2023!
Usually, new moons occur only once a month, but because there’s a slight disjunct between the moon’s phases, which is a 29.5-day cycle, and the Gregorian calendar that we use, some months miss out on new moons completely, and some months can have two new moons: one at the beginning and one at the end. This is what a Blue Moon is, an additional full moon in the exact same month. According to NASA, February will never experience a monthly Blue Moon as it only has 28 days in a common year and 29 in a leap year. Sometimes February doesn’t have a Full Moon at all, this is what’s known as a Black Moon.
There are four supermoons in a row this year, the Almanac explains, with the Aug. 1 supermoon the second of this unusual sequence. “‘Supermoon’ is a catchy term for what astronomers call ‘a perigean full Moon,’ which is when the full moon happens at (or very near) the exact time when the moon is closest to us in its orbit,” the Almanac explains.
A supermoon exceeds the disk size of an average-sized moon by up to 8% and the brightness of an average-sized full moon by some 16%. You may not perceive the difference in size, but a supermoon will appear brighter in the sky.
Later in the month, a second full moon, a Blue Moon, will make an appearance. The term Blue Moon is most commonly used when we have two full Moons in a single month. On Wednesday, August 30, the Full Moon will peak at 9:36 p.m.
The Almanac informs that the Aug. 30-31 supermoon will be the closest, biggest and brightest full supermoon of 2023. It’s exceptionally close in moon miles from Earth (222,043 miles). The next time we’ll have a closer full supermoon is Nov. 5, 2025, when the moon lies 221,817 miles from Earth.
Following the new moon, the illuminated side of the moon will once again begin to turn toward Earth, with this causing the lit lunar face to progressively brighten. Astronomers call this progression “waxing.”
This will lead to the next supermoon, the Aug. 30 Full Blue Moon, which from New York City will rise at 19:10 EDT (2310 GMT) and will set at 06:46 EDT (1146 GMT) on Aug. 31.
But what warrants these August full moons the title “supermoon,” and what makes these full moons different from “regular” full moons?
So-called supermoons occur because the orbit of the moon around the Earth is not a perfect circle but is instead a flattened circle or an ellipse. This means that during its 27.3-day orbit, there are points at which the moon is closer to the Earth and points at which it is further away. The visible size difference of the moon between the closest point, perigee, and the furthest, apogee, is about 14%.
A supermoon happens when the moon is both in the full moon phase of its 29.5-day lunar cycle and when it is around its perigee. This means the official term for a supermoon is a “perigean full moon.” For a supermoon to occur, the moon doesn’t have to be exactly its closest to Earth, however.
Eclipse expert and retired NASA astrophysicist Fred Espanak told Space.com that during the Full Sturgeon Moon, the moon will be 222,158 miles (357,530 km) from Earth. This is opposed to its average distance of around 238,000 miles (382,900 km) away. The perigee of the moon happens on Aug. 2 at 01:52 EDT (0552 GMT) as the Sturgeon moon is in full swing.
Supermoons can result in around a 30% brightening of the moon and a 14% increase in the size of the lunar disk as seen from Earth. These differences are visible to moon-watchers with a lot of experience observing lunar events but aren’t that noticeable with the unaided eye if you don’t pay a lot of attention to the moon nightly.
The “summer of supermoons” ends on Sept. 28 with the Full Corn Moon, which falls five days after the September equinox on Sept. 23, which marks the end of summertime in the northern hemisphere. Next year won’t see a similar supermoon spectacular, unfortunately. The first of just two supermoons in 2024 occurs on Sept. 18, with the next and final supermoon of next year happening a month later on Oct. 18, 2024.
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