Full Moon 2020: What is a Supermoon? Is it a Supermoon tonight?

Stargazers trapped home due to the coronavirus lockdown are in for a treat this week, with two astronomical spectacles. First, the annual Eta Aquariid meteor shower peaked on the mornings of May 5 and May 6. Now, the Full Moon is about to light up the night skies with its beautiful glow.

Known as the Flower Moon and the Corn Planting Moon, it will be the biggest and brightest it has been all month.

The Full Moon will reach peak illumination on Thursday morning.

According to the US space agency NASA, the Full Moon will peak at about 11.45am BST (6.45am EDT) on May 7.

And though a Full Moon is only full for a brief moment, the lunar orb appears full about three days centred on the peak.

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What is a Supermoon?

As the Moon races around our planet, it follows a path that is elliptic and not perfectly round.

As a result, the Moon is closer or farther from our planet every single night.

When the Moon reaches its lowest orbit of Earth, it reaches the so-called lunar perigee.

When the Moon reaches its highest orbit of Earth, it reaches the co-called lunar apogee.

If a Full Moon happens to fall within 90 percent of lunar perigee, it is known as a Supermoon.

NASA’s lunar expert Gordon Johnston said: “The term ‘supermoon’ was coined by the astrologer Richard Noelle in 1979 and refers to either a New or Full Moon that occurs within 90 percent of perigee, its closest approach to Earth in a given orbit.

The term ‘supermoon’ was coined by the astrologer Richard Noelle

Gordon Johnston, NASA

“Under this definition, in a typical year there can be three or four Full Supermoons in a row and three or four New Supermoons in a row.

“In 2020, the four Full Moons from February through May meet this 90 percent threshold.”

Supermoons tend to appear bigger and brighter than average Full Moons.

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Is it a Supermoon tonight?

Although the Moon might appear exceptionally big and bright tonight, the Supermoon will not peak until Thursday morning.

Keep in mind Full Moons appear full for about three days around the peak.

Mr Johnston said the Moon will appear full to the naked eye from Tuesday evening through to Friday morning.

Here in the UK, look out for the Moon on Thursday before 5.42am BST and after 20.44pm BST.

The Moon will be below the horizon between those hours, meaning the peak itself will not be visible.

What is the meaning of the Flower Moon’s name?

The fifth Full Moon of the year is traditionally known as the Flower Moon, the Corn Planting Moon and the Milking Moon.

The unusual name is derived from the time-keeping traditions of Native American tribes who would name the Moon’s phases after seasonal changes in the landscape.

The Flower Moon is named after flowers blooming in spring.

The Old Farmer’s Almanac said: “Depending on the Native American tribe, May’s Full Moon was called the Full Flower Moon as well as Mother’s Moon, Milk Moon, and Corn Planting Moon.

“The May Moon marked a time of increasing fertility with temperatures warm enough for safely bearing young, a near end to late frosts, and plants in bloom.”

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