Sunday, March 20, 2011

Supermoon

At LaMarotte we echo Jack Horkheimer’s slogan and We Keep Looking Up! The object of great interest is the sun—but why not also, occasions arising, the moon, specifically the supermoon? Until the other day I’d never heard this word before. I assume that it must be a new coinage by NASA. The moon achieves this status when it comes closest to the earth. Its orbit around our planet isn’t a perfect circle. As it describes an oval around us, its closest point is its perigee (2 in the diagram), its farthest point is its apogee (1). Yesterday the moon came within an hour of its perigee, hence it appeared 14 percent bigger than at its most distant point from us. The following illustrations, courtesy of NASA, shows the differences. That image is part of a tutorial video available at this site.
              

We were out there, Brigitte and I, in the dark, overlooking Lake Saint Claire, at 8:08 p.m., moonrise time. Ages ago once, vacationing on the Atlantic in Virginia, we’d once risen before dawn to see the sun rise over the ocean—and had been disappointed. Ocean haze hid the sun until it was way, way above the water line. We were therefore patient when 8:08 came and went and the sky remained as dark as ever. Finally, about five minutes late, a tiny red semi-circle became visible. The supermoon then rose. NASA is right. We couldn’t detect, by naked eye, that we were looking at a supermoon. But the Muse of All Poets was indeed very lovely. A collage of what we saw, recorded by our little Kodak—but, alas, with a trembling hand—shows how the color changed as the moon ascended. But we didn’t linger long. It was bitter cold out and a wind blew at us, hard, from over Canada way.
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Jack Horkheimer is the Executive Director of the Miami Space Transit Planetarium, part of the Miami Science Museum. He is also known as the Star Hustler and, in his spare time, produces a television series known as Star Gazer.

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