Supermoon Definition and Types
A supermoon is a type of moon which can elicit great wonder in those who observe them. Frequent stargazers will notice the Moon changes in phases. Although our Moon itself never changes shape, the amount visible to us on Earth is variable. When the side of the Moon facing our planet Earth is fully illuminated by the sun, we can observe a full Moon. Not all full Moons are the same. Depending on the size and shape we can see supermoons at certain times of the year.
At thedailyECO, we find out about this lunar phenomenon by looking at the supermoon definition and types. We explain what are the different types of supermoon, as well as when we can see them in the night sky.
What is a supermoon?
The word ‘supermoon’ is a term that was coined in 1979. It is often used to describe a perigee full Moon, meaning a full Moon that occurs when the Moon is at its closest point to Earth. It happens thanks to the Sun-Earth-Moon geometry and causes the moon to appear relatively huge for about two weeks. This is almost half of the Moon's orbit cycle. This makes the Moon appear brighter and larger in the night sky than we are used to seeing.
The orbit of the Moon around the Earth is not a perfect circle. It is elliptical. This means there are times when the Moon is closest to us (perigee) and times when it is further away (apogee). When a full or new Moon coincides with perigee, the supermoon phenomenon occurs.
It is important to mention that the difference in size and brightness between a supermoon and a regular full or new Moon is not very large to the naked eye. Although it may appear more impressive due to its proximity to Earth, the variation in size is subtle and can be difficult to appreciate without direct comparison. This is especially the case if you do not have much astronomical experience.
Supermoons can be a beautiful sight and attract the attention of many amateur astronomers, as well as the general public. Several supermoons can occur throughout the year, although their frequency and exact appearance can vary.
Learn more about the moon's cycle with out article on why does the Moon shine when it is dark?
How many supermoons are there?
Over the course of a year, several supermoons can occur. The total number of supermoons per year is usually between 2 and 4. There is no formal astronomical convention for designating supermoons with specific names. The term ‘supermoon’ is simply a description of the astronomical phenomenon that occurs when the Moon is in its full or new Moon phase and is closest to Earth in its elliptical orbit.
The exact timing and appearance of supermoons can vary depending on how far away the Moon is at its perigee during that specific period. Each year, astronomers and the media can announce the dates of supermoons based on calculations of lunar phases and orbits. Each supermoon is usually identified with the name of the full moon that happens at that time. For example, the one that occurs on August 31, 2023 will be the Super Blue Moon.
Learn more about the relationship between Earth, the Sun and the Moon with our article on what causes the Earth to revolve around the Sun?
Supermoons of 2023
The moon is at its closest point to Earth in the Northern Hemisphere summer time. This is very convenient for all of us who live in the northern hemisphere. In good weather, we can observe the supermoon in the sky with a comfortable temperature since the nights are generally cooler than the day. The 4 supermoons of 2023 are spread over the following days:
- July 3: Deer Supermoon: 361,934 kilometers away from Earth.
- August 1: Sturgeon Supermoon: 357,530 kilometers away from Earth.
- August 31: Super Blue Moon: 357,344 kilometers away from Earth.
- September 29: Super Harvest Moon: 361,552 kilometers away from Earth.
In 2023 another phenomenon known as the Blue Moon will occur. In this case, blue moons occur every two or three years when there are two full moons in the same month. It will also be the largest version that can be observed. When it is fully deployed in the sky, our Moon will be about 357,344 kilometers from Earth, 7% closer than the average distance for the rest of the year.
Full moon names
Each full moon has its own traditional name, which comes from various cultures and traditions. These names are often tied to natural phenomena or seasonal events that occur during the month in which they appear.
Here are some examples of traditional names for full moons throughout the year, although these can vary depending on the region or culture:
- Wolf Moon (January): associated with the howling of wolves due to their increased foraging activity in the winter.
- Snow Moon (February): so called because the snowfall is usually more intense during this month.
- Worm Moon (March): this is due to the appearance of worms in the soil as spring approaches.
- Pink Moon (April): although the name suggests a color, it refers to the blooming of pink flowers, such as pink moss and phlox.
- Flower Moon (May): related to the abundant blooming of flowers during the month of May.
- Strawberry Moon (June): named because it corresponds with the strawberry-picking season in some regions.
- Thunder Moon (July): due to the frequent thunderstorms that can occur during the summer.
- Harvest Moon (August): refers to the time when the crops are harvested.
- Hunter's Moon (October): related to the time when hunters prepared for winter and went hunting.
- Blue Moon: this can occur in any month, but is associated with the second full moon in the same month. Its name is not linked to any specific phenomenon, but refers to the rarity of having two full moons in the same month. This is what will happen on August 31, 2023 with the supermoon.
Now that you know what a supermoon is and which ones will occur this year, you may want to learn about the moons of other planets than Earth. You can do so with our article on what the 27 moons of Uranus are called.
If you want to read similar articles to Supermoon Definition and Types, we recommend you visit our Facts about Earth and the universe category.