Supermoon Over ESOs Very Large Telescope
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Supermoon Over ESO's Very Large Telescope

March 22, 2011
The night of 19 March saw an unusual coincidence of astronomical events: the full Moon occurred at almost exactly the same time as the Moon was closest to Earth in its elliptical orbit (the point called perigee). The combination of the Moon being both full and relatively close to the Earth made it look significantly bigger and brighter than usual. This panoramic photograph, taken by ESO Photo Ambassador Gerd Huedepohl, captures this so-called "supermoon" as seen from Cerro Paranal, home of ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT).

On the right, in the east, the Moon rises over the mountains, while the setting Sun is visible on the left of the panorama, sinking in the west below the clouds over the Pacific Ocean. Its last rays illuminate the four giant VLT Unit Telescope buildings, the smaller VLT Survey Telescope building, the four round VLT Auxiliary Telescope enclosures, and the Paranal staff who have stepped out onto the mountaintop to watch the sunset and the moonrise.

The coincidence of a full Moon and perigee was a treat for observers. The Moon was about 30 000 km closer to us than average. So, the Moon looked about 14% bigger and 30% brighter than when at its most distant. Contrary to various reports, these "supermoons" have no significant effect on earthquakes or volcanoes, and there is no increased risk of natural disasters.

Although its closest approach to Earth in almost two decades gave observers a great photo opportunity, the Moon was still about 357 000 km away and remained far out of reach, even if one were standing on the 2600-meter mountaintop of Paranal. Luckily, we also have advanced astronomical telescopes such as the VLT, whose superb vision seems to bring even more distant astronomical objects within our grasp!

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