Saturday, June 22, 2013

Moon and Supermoon

The thing about the "Supermoon" is that it really isn't that much larger or brighter than a typical, non-Super full moon. The pictures making their way around the Internet in the weeks leading up to tonight's full moon were deliberately misleading: zoomed-in shots of the moon looming gigantically on the horizon. Heck, you can take a zoomed-in picture of, say, a pseudoscorpion, but that doesn't mean that we're in imminent danger of being eaten by gigantic versions of creatures whose earliest fossils date back over 400 million years.

Pseudoscorpion: Not actual size.

I got home tonight shortly after moonrise. I spotted the moon briefly as I maneuvered into the driveway. I realized that, Supermoon or not, every moonrise is special, and every moonrise should be observed. Remember the quote from The Sheltering Sky that Brandon Lee recounted in his final interview before he was killed on the set of The Crow:

 Because we don't know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. And yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, an afternoon that is so deeply a part of your being that you can't even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four, or five times more? Perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless...

So, after unloading the perishables from the car, I grabbed my tripod, attached my little old Nikon Coolpix L4, and went out to find the moon.

Summer moons rise low and stay low. I had to photograph this one through a gap between my neighbor's house and his shed. It's very difficult for me to photograph the moon with my little point-and-click camera, since the sensor is easily overwhelmed by the light of the moon. Fortunately it was early enough in the evening that the sky was still relatively bright. I set the camera to Sports mode, which does a series of high-speed shots - shorter exposure times reducing the saturation of the sensor - and clicked away.

I was not displeased with the results, even at a tighter zoom.

One thing I didn't do was see if I could blot out the Supermoon with a pencil eraser (the eraser that comes installed on the end of a pencil) held at arm's length. Most people seriously overestimate the apparent size of the moon. Even I might say it's no smaller than a quarter held at arm's length. In fact, it's much, much smaller than that. As soon as I'm done writing this I might run out and try the pencil trick.

If you missed tonight's moon, tomorrow's moon won't be much smaller. Or you could try next month. Just make a point to see it sometime soon. How many more times will you have the opportunity?

UPDATE, 6/23/2013: I did get out later, much later, to try the pencil trick, with a pencil from a bank that ceased to exist nearly twenty years ago. I held up the pencil at arm's length, maneuvered it to blot out the moon, and looked in surprise as the edges of the moon squeezed out all around the eraser. I have said that the difference in size of the Supermoon to a "regular" full moon was slight enough that observing it would require calibrated measurement instruments.  Well, I guess a standard-sized pencil eraser held at one personal arm's length is good enough. Now I'll have to try the same thing during another full moon.

I made an error in this post: FULL moons ride low in the sky in summer, but during other phases the moon will ride high and everywhere in between. This was pointed out in Guy Ottewell's Astronomical Calendar 2013 entry for this full moon.

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