What is a supermoon? | Science | In-depth reporting on science and technology | DW | 14.06.2022

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Science

What is a supermoon?

Supermoons are a rare a chance to get close to the moon and see it bigger and brighter with your own eyes.

A supermoon seen in Greece in 2021

The closest you'll get: A supermoon dwarfs the Temple of Poseidon in Athens, Greece

Scientists talk about a supermoon when the moon is closest to the Earth on its orbit and appears as a full moon.  

The moon looks much bigger and brighter — perhaps because it appears closer to features on the horizon like mountains or trees.

Full moons happen when the side of the moon that faces Earth is fully lit by the sun. And a supermoon is first-and-foremost a full moon. So, some people refer to full supermoons.

The opposite of a supermoon occurs when a full moon is at its farthest point from Earth. Then it’s called a micromoon.

Where do supermoons get their names?

Strawberry supermoons often happen around the end of June and they have more to do with harvests than the moon's color.

A supermoon over Miami Beach, USA

See the supermoon with your own eyes

Historically, in North America, the name referred to the time when strawberries ripen.

In Europe, the same supermoon is called a Mead or Honey Moon, because it's around the time to harvest honey. Mead is a drink made with honey and spices.

Strawberry supermoons are also known as Rose Moons in Europe because they happen around the time that roses bloom.

What's the best way to see a supermoon and when?

Supermoons appear to be between 14 and 17% bigger and 30% brighter than micromoons and can be seen by the human eye — especially if the sky is cloud-free.

A small telescope or binoculars should reveal the detail on the moon’s surface.

The best times to see it are at moonrise, just after sunset, and moonset, just before sunrise. That's when supermoons appear to dwarf other things that you can see on the ground.

How often do supermoons occur?

While full moons happen once every lunar cycle — once every 29.5 days — supermoons only usually happen between three and four times a year.

The giant moons are visible for about three days.

And if you're very lucky, you may witness an even rarer super blood moon. That's when a lunar eclipse occurs on the same night as a supermoon.

Edited by: Pippa Stephens

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