Posted on: November 14, 2016 Posted by: Maliha Naseer Comments: 3

Tonight, 14 November 2016, 06:52 pm

Closest full moon since January 26, 1948 (70 years ago)

Full moon won’t be this close again until November 25, 2034

14% larger than normal and about 30% brighter

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What is all this Supermoon hype about?

The term Supermoon surfaced only recently, when Japan’s Tsunami and earthquake of 2011 was shortly followed by a Supermoon which was wrongly alleged for the natural disasters. Moon has an elliptical orbit around the earth with the point closest to earth called perigee and farthest called apogge, hence the distance to earth ranges from 357,000km to 407,000km. Throw in gravity and dance of our Sun, Earth and Moon into the equation and we get a point where Full Moon coincides with the closest perigee, giving us, you guessed it, a Supermoon. If you’re wondering, we do get a Micromoon when Full moon concurs with farthest apogee.

The Moon's motion over one cycle.
Lunar Cycle showing increase and decrease in size as it goes apogee-perigee-apogee

But do you really see the difference?

The difference in size and brightness can only be apparent to regular sky-watchers. But the beauty of Supermoon is mostly due to the optical illusion created by the foreground objects acting as reference points making the moon seem bigger. However, this moon illusion (the explanation of this optical phenomenon is still debated) stands true for our normal full moons as well especially when moon is rising at the horizon.

Image result for moon illusion Supermoon, although, appears bigger than usual, it’s still difficult to discern the difference through naked eye observations.

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So what’s the fuss about?

I was glad about the fuss created around this phenomenon because for once, most of us wanted to catch a glimpse of this particular full moon and as we raised our heads towards the sky we connected back to the old pastime of our ancestors-star gazing. When the 10 year old me first joined the seven bright stars to make a saucepan in the night sky, I didn’t realize I was looking at the constellation called big dipper which not just helps in celestial navigations but assisted travelers in finding the North Star for years.

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Nor did I know that the photons reaching my eyes were emitted from the heavenly bodies years ago, so the sky I saw was a snapshot of the galaxy from our past. The conundrum night sky posed to the human race is gradually being solved. We are getting more answers and yet raising more questions as our curiosity skyrockets (see, what I did there) urging us to wonder about all the secrets which lay across our universe where we are nothing but an insignificant tip of a speck.

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really a tip of a speck

Society for Promotion And Development of Engineering and Sciences (SPADES) brought forward a state of the art space observatory with the Celestron CGE Pro Series Telescope with curved 14-inch lens being the second in Pakistan after the 16-inch lens owned by Government owned space observatory.

Built on top of the Grad and Birgit Rausing Library building, it hosts a room adjacent to main telescope and equipment room, equipped with LCD, giving students a real-time view of the nebulae and galaxies as captured by the telescope (well not exactly real time because we are really looking at the past). Although the telescopes are not functional due to lack of power cables (which will be delivered next week), SPADES opened up the facility for LDS on our persistent request and allowed us to observe the Supermoon from the Astronomy binoculars instead.

The peek from the binoculars earned a gasp from observers. It left me speechless when the flat disc I observe as the moon from my naked eye, turned into a huge sphere magnifying the cater impact lines at its surface. For a second you lose yourself in the spectacle moon has to offer, the same object which hangs up there in your night sky marking the starts of your lunar calendars and determining tides on your planet.

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Either you end up at the observatory to marvel at the planetary movements, distant stars, the scorching sun or the Supermoon, SPADES has enabled observational astronomy to become part of our lives again. As Hassan, President of Spades explained that the telescope will not just allow us to observe what’s lost to the naked eye due to smog and light pollution of city but also what is hidden all the way up in the Milky Way Galaxy through spectroscopy.

I remember when at night during our visit to Ayubia national park, I looked up and my heart missed a beat. Without the orange hue of light pollution in the night sky, its canvas was black with millions of stars plastered on it and a waning moon in the horizon gave little light to distort the visibility of Milky Way (actually Milky Way Galactic Center, since every star we see at night is part of milky way, err except few like that fuzzy star at corner of great square of Pegasus is actually an entirely another galaxy with 400 billion stars but that’s a story for another day).

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I felt remorseful that we lose such a spectacular sight every night to the evil of pollution of light (not an intended rap, really). So tonight whether you witnessed the apparently not-so-Supermoon or not make sure you pay a visit to your very own space observatory to embark on an interstellar adventure as you dive into the unknown. May the force be with you.

 

 

Maliha Naseer
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