National Geographic
Menu

5 Sky Events This Week: Lord of the Rings Meets Luna, Solstice Supermoon

A "super moon" rises near the Lincoln Memorial on March 19, 2011, in Washington, D.C.  Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

The beauty of the full moon rising, like this “super moon” near the Lincoln Memorial in March  2011, in Washington, D.C., is one of the most stunning sky shows not to be missed. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Gaze skyward this week and watch our solar system’s two innermost planets have a strikingly close encounter, while changing seasons brings the year’s largest moon in the sky.

Moon and Spica. On Tuesday, June 18, look towards the southern sky to see the gibbous waxing moon glide extremely close to the distant star Spica (263 light years away), which is the brilliant white member of the constellation Virgo.

By nightfall in the western hemisphere, the cosmic duo will appear about 2 degrees apart–equal to about the width of your thumb at arm’s length. From Europe and Asia they will appear even closer, and from southwest Africa and Madagascar the moon will appear to hide Spica.

June Solstice. For the northern hemisphere, summer (winter in the southern hemisphere) officially begins at 1:04 a.m. EDT on Friday, June 21 (5:04 am UT; See list of cities and local times).

During this season, the Earth’s northern axis is slightly tilted toward the sun so that the northern hemisphere gets more direct sunlight and experiences warmer temperatures. Locations south of the equator are tilted away from the sun, so that the sunlight is dispersed, making for colder temperatures.

For skywatchers on the first day of the new season and a few days afterward the sun appears to rise at the same place on the horizon – hence the origin of the word solstice, meaning ‘sun stands still’ in Latin.

 From solstice date onward the days start getting shorter and the nights longer in the northern hemisphere. The opposite occurs in the southern hemisphere.

Saturn Meets the Moon. On the evening of Wednesday, June 19, the moon will glide underneath the ringed-planet, less than 4 degrees apart–less than the width of your three middle fingers at arm’s length.

It’s amazing to think that despite its mind-boggling 1.38 billion kilometer (857 million mile) distance from Earth, humans have the Cassini spacecraft  orbiting the planet and its retinue of moons.

Venus and Mercury Pair Up. Also just after sunset on June 19 check out the two innermost planets in the solar system close together one last time as Mercury begins to sink back closer to the sun and drop out of sight. Face the northwest sky about 30 minutes after sunset and look very close to the horizon for the final meeting of brighter Venus and little Mercury to its left.

The planetary pair will be about 2 degrees apart, making for a cool sight through a small telescope. Mercury will appear as a thin crescent while Venus will look much like a miniature version of a gibbous moon, with nearly 94% of its disk lit.

Supermoons occur when the full moon is at it's closest to Earth, called perigee. Credit: NASA

Supermoons occur when the full moon is at it’s closest to Earth, called perigee and they appear bigger and brighter than the when the moon is at its farthest and is the smallest full moon. Credit: NASA

Biggest Supermoon of 2013. Only two days after the solstice, in the early morning hours of Sunday, June 23, the moon will officially reach its full phase and will be the closest (356,990 kilometers or 221,823 miles) and largest ‘supermoon’ of the year.

The moon’s orbit is egg-shaped, and there are times when it is at perigee—its shortest distance from Earth in the roughly month-long lunar cycle—or at apogee, its farthest distance from Earth. If the full moon phase happens to be at the same time as the perigee then we get a supermoon, which happens once a year.

Despite all the media hype in recent years, the difference in size of the lunar disk from ‘average’ full moons will be so negligible that most moon gazers will not notice anything amiss.  Still, there is nothing quite as magical as watching that giant silvery orb rising in the east after sunset.

Tell us—what amazing sky phenomena have you seen lately?

Follow Andrew Fazekas, the Night Sky Guy, on Twitter and Facebook.

Comments

  1. Anuj Bastola
    Kathmandu , Nepal
    June 27, 2013, 4:59 am

    Thanks for the information that u have provided….. i really enjoyed that moment of brightest & biggest moon ever …..But i could not enjoy it properly as it was somehow cloudy last night .

  2. Benjamin Kaman
    Assam, India
    June 24, 2013, 3:41 am

    Thanks for the information. Last night (23rd) the Moon appeared really bright and I took a photo with my 26X Nikkor lens. There was little cloud surrounding the Moon at about 11.00pm IST (17.30 GMT), though cloud was not visible in the rest of the sky.

  3. Marilyn Anderson
    Chicago--USA
    June 23, 2013, 11:32 am

    Peter-so you don’t think a “vibrant experience” is very cool indeed? I sure do!!

  4. Saqib Iqbal
    United Kingdom
    June 22, 2013, 5:09 pm

    LOL the moon looks pretty much the same size, ever so slightly brighter…hahaha…..HOAX

  5. Maleek Powell
    Kingston, Jamaica
    June 22, 2013, 1:24 pm

    Still trying to work out the best place to shoot from….

  6. Reynold
    Chengdu,Sichuan Province,China
    June 22, 2013, 7:24 am

    Really!I’ve got to watch,but I’m wondering whether the weather would be good enough~

  7. Bridget K.
    Cape Town, South Africa
    June 22, 2013, 6:48 am

    Umm…I hope that bit about the length of days after the solstice is a typo or else it would mean the order of the universe has changed.
    I stand corrected, but i believe the northern hemisphere is about to experience long days, with short nights, based on the fact that our (southern hemisphere) days have become shorter, with the sun setting at 5pm, to only rise at 8am the next day.

    If the order of the universe has changed, we clearly didn’t get the memo:)

    • Andrew Fazekas
      June 22, 2013, 4:48 pm

      The days have been getting longer, sun rising earlier and setting later each day as we have been approaching the Summer Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. Once we pass the June solstice the Earth’s North Pole begins to slowly turn away from the Sun, while the South Pole begins to turn towards the Sun, as our planet moves along it’s orbit. What this essentially means is that as we now have pasted the June Solstice and move towards the December solstice the days will begin to get shorter and nights longer North of the equator and the opposite for those south of it. The order of the universe is maintained ;-)

  8. Predator
    Toronto, Parents Basement
    June 21, 2013, 6:26 pm

    Like the archaeologist in the movie said, it is a hunters moon. Stock up on meats and deli. Maybe we see some UFO’s?

  9. Karren Pell
    Montgomery AL
    June 20, 2013, 12:47 pm

    I like your Blog

  10. Judy Warren
    Erlanger, KY
    June 20, 2013, 1:31 am

    I believe that the big moon will affect our new weather record breaking events! The Tide especially hurricanes, tornadoes the power of gravity & our higher power.

  11. Georgia May
    June 19, 2013, 5:44 am

    this is the same day as one direction’s third anniversary #fate

  12. Suasn White
    Massachusetts, USA
    June 18, 2013, 6:59 pm

    I’m nuts about the full moon at all times so this will be great…if we can see hit here! Forecasts indicate that we will, finally, have a rain-free, if not exactly cloud-free night.

    There’s a great scene in the film “Moonstruck”, w/Nicholas Cage, in which everyone in Little Italy, Brooklyn, is mesmerized and even driven to “crazy” acts of love by the gigantic moon, one winter.

  13. Peter M Ernzer
    June 18, 2013, 5:40 pm

    OK, I’m not a moderate guy, skip the cool-part.

  14. Peter M Ernzer
    Luxembourg
    June 18, 2013, 5:37 pm

    Why do you inform the world that one of our close neighbours from Nederland finds supermoon “COOL”? This is a non-statement void of the tiniest meaning. I’ll be watching the moonrise on June 23d (our national holiday like your 4th of July) and hope for a vibrant experience.

  15. chengyan
    new york
    June 18, 2013, 2:36 pm

    i saw one of those twice!

  16. Claire
    Atlin, British Columbia, Canada
    June 18, 2013, 2:03 pm

    Unfair to read about supermoons in northern Canada–it doesn’t get dark enough to see the moon these days!

  17. Pagano's
    North Shore, Oahu
    June 18, 2013, 1:52 pm

    We’ll be watching and wishing the world peace.

  18. Sanat Kumar Kar
    Howrah, W Bengal, India
    June 18, 2013, 11:13 am

    The sky is clouded. I am missing the view. Sad!

  19. MichaelSpears
    australia
    June 18, 2013, 5:37 am

    Is townsville australia good to see it

    • Andrew Fazekas
      June 18, 2013, 2:55 pm

      Yes, within an hour after your local sunset, looking towards your eastern horizon, you should see the moon rising. Try to find a spot with a flat horizon to catch those first few moments as it peeks above foreground landscape -it’s a striking sight.

  20. József Váradi
    Hungary Budapest
    June 18, 2013, 5:36 am

    What does it mean Supermoon?

    • Andrew Fazekas
      June 18, 2013, 2:59 pm

      The terms supermoon was first coined by an astrologer actually and most professional astronomers really cringe at the term. But it has become a popular term – mostly because of all the media coverage. It really refers to when the moon is at it’s closest point to Earth, coinciding with a a full phase- known also as a perigee full moon. Not all supermoons are the same distance – this one for instance will be a few percent closer than most other ones but skywatchers will probably not be able to notice. Still a full moon rising is an amazing sight to see.

  21. c.s.venkatasubramanian
    coimbatore, india
    June 18, 2013, 5:24 am

    Thought provoking information

  22. modena stefano
    latina
    June 18, 2013, 3:55 am

    super moon is very nais

  23. Padmanabhan Jaikumar
    Kolkata
    June 18, 2013, 2:34 am

    It will be a marvelous phenomena to watch the occurrence provided visible to naked eyes since every one interested can not afford special equipment to watch it

  24. David Bellas
    Netherlands
    June 18, 2013, 1:57 am

    COOL

  25. Latifa Rahim
    Indonesia
    June 17, 2013, 11:22 pm

    It is said above that supermoon will appear ‘in the early morning hours of Sunday’. Is it applicable for every time zone?

  26. Mary M Perreira
    Los Angeles CA
    June 17, 2013, 10:35 pm

    Im watching from the top of my RV…

  27. Matilde
    sur de america
    June 17, 2013, 9:05 pm

    observando las estrellas caer en el cielo , desplazan doce la luz.. , hace muchos años cuando era pequeña vi caer un aerolito, fue un fuego inmenso que recorrió el cielo en horas de noche , creyendo que habia caido a unas pocas cuadras, fueron a varios km. Amo mirar el cielo. en las noches , despejadas , ver las estrellas , en algún lugar de altura y nitidez.Gracias. por la noticia.

  28. Robert
    MK
    June 17, 2013, 6:14 pm

    I already saw the supermoon in 2012 but didn’t paid attention to it. It was yellow and big, the whole sky was shining and my bedroom was very bright so I couldn’t sleep. I knew it was closer but now I know why :)

  29. agbc
    June 17, 2013, 6:00 pm

    Aww, a supermoon for my birthday!

  30. Elena williams
    Seattle, WA
    June 17, 2013, 4:13 pm

    Last Saturday we had a rainbow halo around the sun! The sun, In Seattle.

  31. Jose Socorro Murillo Gudiño
    Queretaro Qro. Mexico
    June 17, 2013, 3:31 pm

    Excelent information,thankyou very much.

  32. Judy Plummer
    Hastings, Ontario, Canada
    June 17, 2013, 11:46 am

    Andrew. Thankyou so much. I’ll be a star gazer on the 18th, 19th and in the 23rd. I don’t have a telescope. What would be the best to buy. Please let me know. A regractor or a reflector. I’d appreciate an answer when you can. Your so knowledgeable. Thankyou