January 29, 2010

Check Out Tonight’s Wolf Moon!

Tonight's full moon will be the biggest and brightest of the year.

What is the reason for this larger than normal full moon?

The moon is an average of 238,855 miles from Earth, but its orbit around our planet is an ellipse rather than a perfect circle.  One side of the orbit is 31,070 miles closer than the other.

Once the moon reaches its closest point to us in each orbit it is called perigee. Once or twice a year perigee coincides with a full moon making the moon bigger and brighter than any other full moons during the year.

C.B. Devgun of Science Popularization Association of Communicators and Educators (SPACE) told the Deccan Herald that this moon will be 15 percent larger and 30 percent brighter than what we will see the rest of the year.

"This is because the moon's orbit is an ellipse with one side 50,000 km closer to earth than the other. In the language of astronomy, the two extremes are called 'apogee' (far away) and 'perigee' (nearby)."

"On Jan 30, the moon becomes full, three hours after reaching perigee, making it bigger and brighter than we are going to see for the rest of 2010," said Devgun.

This will be the first full moon of 2010, which is known as the wolf moon.  This term dates back to Native American culture and the notion that hungry wolves howled at the full moon on cold winter nights.

There have been several studies over the years that have tried to tie lunar phases to births, heart attacks, deaths, suicides, violence, psychiatric hospital admissions and epileptic seizures.  Those studies have led to inclusive or nonexistent connections.

Mars will also be visible tonight just to the left of the moon.  As the sun sets in the southwest, Mars will rise in the northeast. 

This year Mars has been as close as 61 million miles from Earth, and will still be remarkably bright during tonight's wolf moon.

"To the naked eye it will appear as a bright, orange-colored star right next to the full moon"”the pair will jump out at you for sure," said Marc Jobin, an astronomer at the Montreal Planetarium.