Monday, March 21, 2011

Super Moon?

As an amateur astronomer, I observe and photograph the moon more than the average person. While some celestial events are indeed rare, I find it a little annoying the way the media spun the so-called 'super moon' as if it was visually exceptional and if you didn't get off your couch you won't see anything like it again in your lifetime.

Perhaps I'm being a bit of a curmudgeon and shouldn't be critical of anything that gets people outdoors away from their big screen televisions, but the 'super moon' hype was just that. Even worse, sensationalizing it brought out the wackadoodles quick to blame the 'super moon' for the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

If shown images of the moon at apogee and perigee, the lunar disc size differential seems substantial, but this isn't how we experience full moons month to month. I created the above image so you can compare the size of full moons in recent months as well as April. Keep in mind that the disc size of the full moon in the sky is equivalent to holding out a pea at arm's length. Do you really think you could tell them apart? Click on the above image and stand 10 to 12 feet from it.

Years ago, when there was another 'super moon,' I conducted a simple experiment by projecting images of a full moon onto a wall in a dark room. The two images were sized to approximate a 'super moon' and an average sized full moon. None of my participants could tell them apart when projected one at a time. In all likelihood, you'd notice nothing unusual about the 'super moon' of March. If you missed it, have another look in April when the full moon is a mere arc minute smaller.

For amateur astronomers, the moon is always an interesting celestial object to look at!

© 2011 Mike McDowell

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