Need a distraction? Here's how to enjoy this week's 'super' pink moon

Tuesday and Wednesday will be your best chance to take in the uncommonly big, bright moon. Here's how to enjouy it, and some other tips for stargazing in a pandemic.

Spoiler: it won't actually be pink, but it's the brightest full moon we'll see in 2020

The best time to go for a gaze: right after it starts rising, when the natural satellite will look its largest.

Is the latest season of that supposedly binge-worthy reality TV series not cutting it for you?

Or perhaps you've already finished all those puzzles you dragged out of the attic.

If so, astronomers say bored self-isolators have an alternative Tuesday night and Wednesday: a rare lunar spectacle known as a "super" pink moon.

"It's a great reason to go outside and have a look at the moonrise as it comes across your local neighbourhood," said York University physics and astronomy professor Paul Delaney.

"It'll be really quite majestic."

The celestial phenomenon is the result of two separate events that will happen close to one another over the next two days.

First, the moon reaches its perigee Tuesday, which marks its closest distance to earth during its monthly cycle. 

Tuesday's perigee also represents the closest the moon will come to earth in all of 2020, a (relatively) scant 356,907 kilometres, closer than the average distance of 384,400 kilometres.

Second, a full moon will arrive on Wednesday, April 8, about eight hours after the point of perigee.

The coincidence of those two events is often referred to as a "supermoon," though some astronomers balk at the term, which was coined by astrologer Richard Noelle in 1979.

York University professor Paul Delaney says the pink moon may not seem much larger than a typical full moon, but there are other celestial phenomena worth checking out this week. (Zoom)

Whatever you may call it, the result is an orb that is slightly larger and brighter than the typical full moon, though Delaney notes the difference is "almost imperceptible to the human eye."

In another mild disappointment, the moon won't actually be pink. The term pink moon refers to any full moon during the month of April, just as a full moon in October is known as a harvest moon.

Stars, planets and the ISS

But before you scoff at what is apparently a not-so-super, not-so-pink moon, Delaney says it's still worth doing some stargazing this week, assuming you can maintain the recommended two-metre physical distancing buffer.

He recommends people look for the moon shortly after it begins rising, a brief period that results in "moon illusion," where the natural satellite appears larger than at other points in the sky. 

Delaney says amateur astronomers can also enjoy a host of spring-time celestial phenomena in addition to the moon.

He advises new stargazers to check out the Orion constellation in the southwest, or Ursa Major (the constellation that contains The Big Dipper), visible directly overhead. He said the planet Venus is "blazingly bright" at the moment, and visible to the west.

"And if you really want to get energetic and stay up after midnight, around 1, 2 o'clock in the morning, you've got the trio of planets, Mars, Saturn and Jupiter all rising in the east," Delaney added.

According to NASA, the International Space Station will also be visible in the Greater Toronto Area on Wednesday at 8:34 p.m. for two minutes.

The station will be the third-brightest object in the sky as it soars overhead, looking something like a "fast-moving plane" according to NASA.


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