Technology & Science

November supermoon will be the closest to Earth since 1948

In astronomical terms, we're about to get up close and personal with our moon — super close, you could say.

It should be bright enough to read by moonlight, astronomer says

A supermoon rises over the Dolomites in Levico Terme, near Trento, Italy, on Aug. 10, 2014. November's supermoon, or perigee moon, will be the closest our planet has come to its neighbour since 1948. (Giuseppe Cacace/AFP/Getty Images)

In astronomical terms, we're about to get up close and personal with our moon — super close, you could say. 

When a full moon reaches its closest point to our planet in its elliptical orbit, that's called a supermoon, or perigee in scientific terms. And this month's supermoon on Nov. 14 is going to be the closest we've come to our orbiting neighbour in almost seven decades.

The last time the moon was this close was 1948, and it won't happen again until 2034.

"In that sense, it's kind of a super supermoon," David Hanes, a professor of astronomy at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont., told CBC News.

At perigee, the moon is about 14 per cent closer than when it's at its farthest point from Earth, which will make it appear 14 per cent bigger in the sky, according to NASA. It'll also shine about 30 per cent more light onto us.

"Once it gets high in the sky then it's like a huge light that's turned on. I mean, if you go somewhere dark, you don't need a flashlight to read," astronomer Paul Mortfield, former director of Toronto's David Dunlap Observatory, said.

The full moon descends behind the Nossa Senhora da Penha Church in Rio de Janeiro on Aug. 10, 2014. This month's perigee moon will be even bigger and brighter. (Yasuyoshi CHiba/AFP/Getty Images)

The supermoon will hit its peak over North America on Monday morning at 6:22 a.m. ET, but you don't have to get up early to enjoy it. Barring cloudy weather, a big, bright moon should be visible Sunday and Monday evening.

OK, maybe it's not that super

Still, Hanes cautions about expecting too much when you look up at the night sky. 

"There's a lot of talk about supermoons, but the reality is — and I hate to be a killjoy — but the reality is you really wouldn't notice the effect unless you knew about it in advance," Hanes said.

Regular full moon or supermoon? You can't always tell by looking. (Yves Herman/Reuters)

"Suppose you were to take something like a beach ball and set it up, say, 30 feet away from you and look at it and see how big it looks, and then you turned around and someone moves it a couple of feet closer to you. It's about 15 per cent closer. Is it going to look dramatically bigger? The answer is no, not really."

But the moon will appear bigger 

To get a sense of just how big and bright the supermoon is by comparison, Mortfield suggests going out on Monday night to take a picture of the supermoon, which will be some 356,000 kilometres away from the Earth.

Then, on another night when it's farther away — it'll be 406,000 kilometres from Earth on June 9 — snap a shot with the same equipment at the same time and location.

"And what you then do is compare them side by side and you can actually see that one is much bigger and one is much smaller," Mortfield said. 

Astronomer Paul Mortfield suggests comparing photos of the moon on Nov. 14 and June 9 to get a side-by-side look at how much bigger the supermoon is. (Marco Langbroek/Wikimedia Commons)

Getting pumped about astronomy 

Hanes and Mortfield agree the best part about the supermoon is that it gets people excited about space. 

"We have supermoons all the time, but it's only been in the last couple of years that people have caught onto this phrase," he said. "But you know, what's so great about this is getting people outside to actually look up at the sky."

For the best view, tag along with a local astronomy group and peek through the telescope. You might also catch a glimpse of planets and star clusters. (Bazuki Muhammad/Reuters)

Mortfield's advice for supermoon viewing is to go out with your local astronomy club. His group, York Region Astronomy, is heading to Toronto's Bayview Reservoir Park on Monday just after sunset, and anyone is free to tag along.

And while you're peeking through the telescope, you should check out what else the big, beautiful sky has to offer, Mortfield said.

Mars will likely be visible, he said, as will Venus and "some other exciting star clusters."

About the Author

Sheena Goodyear is the digital producer for CBC Radio's As It Happens. Originally from Newfoundland and Labrador, her work has appeared on CBC News, Sun Media, the Globe & Mail, the Toronto Star, VICE News and more.


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